UMass Stonewall Center, football collaborate for Pride Day against Liberty

  • Matt Vautour

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2022 6:13:01 PM

Declaring Saturday’s home football game against Liberty “Pride Day” means more than putting a rainbow flag on game programs for the UMass athletic department.

UMass will host the Flames at 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium and has been promoting the occasion since it announced it during the home opener against Stony Brook. Every Tweet offering game information has been paired with a link to UMass’ Stonewall Center, one of the first LGBTQIA+ centers on a college campus when it opened in 1985.

The idea for Pride Day originated within the athletics department, and they reached out to the Stonewall Center to partner for awareness.

“The folks in athletics have been some of our biggest supporters on campus there,” Stonewall Center director Genny Beemyn said. “They have been tremendous in supporting LGBTQ+ athletes and working with us to educate their staff.”

Beemyn, who uses they/them pronouns, pointed to the way the athletic department handled Derrick Gordon coming out in 2014 as the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player.

“They handled it so well. It was such a non event on campus, even though it was a huge national story, but the support that they gave to Derrick and to other LGBTQ+ athletes has just been fantastic,” Beemyn said. “I can't really say enough good things about them and the work that they do and the support that they provide us. It wasn't surprising to me when they came up the idea of doing a Pride Day because they recognize other groups, and this is sort of an extension of that.”

All five games at McGuirk Alumni Stadium this fall carry some pageantry. The opener was Youth Day and the Hall of Fame recognition. In addition to Pride Day, Saturday is Band Day. UMass will also celebrate Family Weekend, Homecoming and Military/First Responder Day throughout the season.

The plan is to make Pride Day an annual tradition the same way as the others.

“This is a great opportunity for us to do it on an annual basis, to build Pride Day just like we build Homecoming and Family Weekend and Hall of Fame weekend, all those really important, seminal events we have at football games,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a video posted to the UMass Athletics Twitter. “This is something we’re excited about building into the future and starting it in 2022.”

Bamford told The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman in late September that it’s just a coincidence that UMass happens to be hosting Liberty for the event. Liberty is a a private evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia, that enforces an honor code on its students that prohibits homosexuality. “Statements and behaviors that are associated with LGBT lifestyle are prohibited” according to its text.

“This is the first one and it's not coincidental that they chose to make the first one, the game against Liberty, right, a very hostile school when it comes to LGBT students and, really, many students who have various marginalized minoritized identities,” Beemyn said. “I think athletics being really supportive of the LGBTQ+ community wanted to send a different message than what Liberty sends, so it was sort of fortuitous timing that we wanted to do a Pride Day event, and they had this game on the schedule.”

One other coincidence: the game almost overlaps with National Coming Out Day, which is Tuesday.

In addition to promoting donations to the Stonewall Center, the UMass football team brought in Jules Prucell from the UMass Title IX office to present on awareness and allyship of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Stonewall Center will have a table at the event to provide information and resources along with other campus groups. UMass will air informational messages during timeouts and has encouraged fans to dress in rainbow attire.

The funds raised for the Stonewall Center will go toward educational events that raise for LGBTQIA+ students and concerns. They host between one and two events per week, generally.

“A lot of the events are community building events, where we do have events for different identities, different social identities, different gender identities, for folks to come together and have fun and socialize and have a have a sense of belonging a sense of community,” Beemyn said.

Hosting a Pride Day event can be the start of that for the football program. 

“It sends a really powerful message when a football team is taking this stand. It's not just we're telling you to do this, so you're going to do this. It's my understanding that they've gotten folks on board with us and the football program, and not just simply imposing them from above but really getting buy-in,” Beemyn said. “It just really sends a signal that this very traditionally anti-gay anti-bisexual environment, that we are really sending a different message out to to people. I think that's really pretty powerful given that that history of the sport and and of men's sports in general in this country.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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