Pride Alumni Network and UT Departments Band Together for Austin Pride Parade

As the sun set over the Capitol Saturday night, a sea of rainbow assembled in downtown Austin. Speakers blared Beyoncé and Lady Gaga songs as companies and organizations decorated trucks—and themselves—with Pride flags, balloons, and glitter. This year, a burnt orange trailer was among the festivities as UT Austin alumni, students, athletes, and faculty joined forces to put together a Pride float for the first time. Complete with a rainbow balloon arch and Hook’ Em himself, the float made its way from the Capitol to 4th Street as thousands congregated to watch.

UT’s participation in Austin Pride is nothing new, but this year’s efforts were the largest yet. The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Gender and Sexuality Center, Dell Medical School, and the Texas Exes Pride Alumni Network teamed up to create the float and march in the parade. For the first time, Texas Athletics attended, bringing student athletes, Hook’ Em mascot, and Texas Cheer and Pom squad members. Austin Dennis, BS ’09, Life Member, chair of the Texas Exes Pride Alumni Network, says the network has been marching in the parade since 2013 as a way to connect with current students and show support for the community.

“It’s exciting and it makes you feel supported and welcomed and at home to see so many different groups marching in the parade,” Dennis says. “You see group after group and company after company. You see churches go by and charities go by. It’s such a diverse crowd all there to love and support.”

The Austin area has the third-highest percentage of the population who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in the U.S., according to a 2015 Gallup poll. Austin Pride events began as the Gay and Lesbian Pride Fiesta in 1990 and have since grown to draw crowds of 100,000. Companies like Apple and Ebay and nonprofits like the Kind Clinic have entries in the parade. Originally scheduled for August, the parade was rescheduled for Sept. 30 due to inclement weather from Hurricane Harvey. The Pride Festival, which usually occurs on the same day as the parade, has been rescheduled for Oct. 21.

The Gender and Sexuality Center at UT tables annually at the festival, as do other UT organizations, and the Pride Alumni Network, to connect with the Austin community. Liz Elsen, MEd ’08, director of the GSC, has been tabling for the past six years. “Our UT participation has gone up,” she says. “More people are invested in the success of LGBTQ students.”

René Salazar, BS ’93, Life Member, assistant dean for diversity at the Dell Medical School, says participation in the parade was a way for the medical school to show it is invested in the LGBTQ community in Austin. Diversity is a key component of the new Dell Medical School, which welcomed its first class in June 2016. After he was hired last summer, Salazar opened the medical school’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to promote a supportive climate at the medical school for both students and faculty, recruit individuals from all different communities, and educate students on how to treat diverse populations. “Being in the parade, marching in the parade, part of that experience was a reminder of just how vibrant the community is in Austin,” Salazar says. “I want folks at Dell Med to appreciate that as well.”

Salazar remembers the first time he went to a Pride parade in 1999. Last year, he was able to march in one for the first time with other representatives from the Dell Medical School. “I’m gay, and so for me, personally, it’s important for me to be part of the community and bring it into my work here at the med school,” he says.

First year medical student Dekoiya Burton marched in the parade along with a cadre of other medical students and residents. For Burton, it was no surprise Dell Medical School was involved. “I expected them to be,” Burton says. “That’s a whole part of Dell: creating this health ecosystem. It’s not just saying Dell knows what’s best for this community, but hey, we need to put our ears out to the community, we need to be at events like this and celebrate with the community.”

Burton says he believes diversity is important in healthcare so that those underrepresented in medicine can find role models in the field. “Our country is becoming more diverse,” Burton says. “We’re serving people of all backgrounds, and I think in order to best serve everyone, to create an ethical and sustainable health system that works for everyone, we have to be more diverse.”

Diversity is also a core value of Texas Athletics, and as such,, the UT float had student athletes from Women’s Basketball, Track and Field, Rowing, and Cheer and Pom as well as staff from athletics department. In 2011, Texas Athletics created the Diversity and Inclusion Council to focus on this core value. The Council is made up of six committees, one of which is called Social Identities, which organized Texas Athletics’ Pride participation this year. In September, UT was ranked the best school in the Big 12 Conference for LGBTQ-inclusion in a first-of-its-kind report from Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that strives to end homophobia in sports. In the non-profit’s Athletic Equality Index, which measures how well each university supports its LGBTQ players, fans, coaches, officials, and administrators, UT scored 90 out of 100 potential points.

As the UT float made its way down Congress Avenue Saturday night, crowd members dressed in colorful beads and rainbow shirts and knee-high socks threw up their horns and chanted “Texas! Fight!” When the parade neared 4th Street, the event came to a close with loud cheers. For current and former UT students and faculty members of the LGBTQ community, it was a chance to see their school support them.

“It feels amazing,” says Dan Ngyen, a second-year family medicine resident and member of the LGBTQ community, who marched in the parade. “I feel really supported as an employee and as one of the residents here. It’s not just me being part of the community, but the entire medical school is behind it as well.”

Photos courtesy Texas Athletics.

 

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