Campus Community Celebrates Inclusion
Campus Community Celebrates Inclusion

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Last Thursday, on a brisk but sunny afternoon, students, faculty, staff and administrators gathered around the flagpole outside the Marvin K. Peterson Library, where a Rainbow Pride Flag was raised alongside the American flag.

From the center of a snowy Maxcy Quad, the group marched together to the flag as part of a solidarity vigil organized by the University’s Institute of Social Justice and the Victimology and Pride student clubs.

A Rainbow Pride Flag waves next to the American flag outside of the Peterson Library.

The event was held in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) communities in Russia and around the world on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremonies in Sochi, Russia.

“In light of the winter Olympics and the repressive stances and policies coming out of Russia, and increasingly out of the rest of the world, we thought we could take this opportunity to gather on our campus for a moment of solidarity and to celebrate inclusion,” said Tracy Tamborra, associate professor of criminal justice and co-director of the Institute. “It’s very exciting and very moving emotionally to take a look at the Pride flag flying with our American flag.” 

The Institute, established two years ago, strives to promote political, economic and social justice on campus and in the surrounding community through research, teaching, service, campus and community programming, personal connections and policy development.

When the Institute launched, President Steve Kaplan said he was confident it would provide a forum for students to explore important multicultural issues while building a foundation to serve as a change agent in an ever-changing global society.

That’s exactly what has been happening, Tamborra said, thanks to increasing involvement on the part of students and the whole campus community. She praised the efforts of two members, Robyn McBurney ’17 and Arnold Lane ’14, who organized the vigil in a few short days to coincide with the start of the Olympic Games. McBurney and Lane said they were extremely heartened by the response of the University community not only at the event but in the discussions they’ve seen spring up all over campus and on social media.

Protesters in cities around the world have spoken out against a Russian law, signed in July by President Vladimir Putin, which outlaws pro-gay propaganda that could be accessible to minors. Critics have said the law is so restrictive and vague that it deters almost any public expression of support for gay rights. Politicians and civil rights groups from nations around the world have condemned the law and many are boycotting the Olympics.

McBurney said life for gay people living in Russia has become increasingly perilous in the last year, and she spoke of news reports of Neo-Nazi gangs in Russia beating, torturing and humiliating members of the LGBTQ community. While world leaders, Nobel Laureates and celebrities have turned down invitations to the Olympics or called for boycotts of the Games and their sponsors, McBurney asked the UNH community to think beyond the Olympics. 

“Today is not about shaming Russia,” McBurney said. “I believe Russia has done that to itself. It’s not about boycotting or protesting the Olympic Games, because I believe the Olympics are about freedom.”

Instead she said the LGBTQ athletes competing in Sochi need support. “As do those who live in Russia who are afraid, who are angry and who are silenced,” she said.

Brittany Bauch ’15, president of the Victimology Club, said that members of the LGBTQ communities are frequently victims of violence, sexual assault and discrimination, particularly homeless LGBTQ youth. “We are all humans and we all have the same right to a life free of violence and discrimination,” she said.

David Schroeder, assistant professor and assistant dean in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, said, “Our Olympic team is competing in a country of renewed intolerance and politically sanctioned hatred such that it requires a response. 

“To those who suggest that the raising of a flag is a mere gesture, this is not a gesture but a declaration,” he said. “And declarations are where all change comes from. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the hopes of a secure and livable world lie with the disciplined non-conformists’ dedication to justice and peace.

“Today we witness a declaration from a small group of disciplined non-conformists,” Schroeder said, adding that he hopes actions such as the vigil lead to changes in conditions and laws in the United States and, by example, lead other nations to seek similar change. 

Mary Marena `16, a member of UNH Pride and the LGBTQ community, said she was overwhelmed by the support of the UNH community. “I know we have a long way before we actualize equality not just here in the U.S. but in the entire world, but this is definitely a start."

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