While Columbia and Sauk counties may not be host to the largescale Pride celebrations seen in Milwaukee or Madison this month, residents in the more rural areas can still find ways to celebrate LGBTQ identities in June.
Oftentimes, safe spaces for the younger members of the LGBTQ community exist in schools. Portage High School, for instance, has had a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) since 2011, starting with just six members. Now, the Alliance consists of over 35 students, with activities like anti-bullying training, putting safe space stickers on classroom doors, and GSA Advocacy days overseen by PHS English teacher Miranda Shanks.
“I graduated from PHS in 2000, and practically no one was‘ out, ’” said Shanks. “I’m really proud of the progress PHS has made, and I’m sure we’ll continue to make progress.”
While the academic calendar in Portage ends in early June, Shanks and her students coordinated a “pre-Pride month week” which ran from May 23-27. Featuring a “kindness wall” of supportive sticky notes, T-shirt sales, and a coloring contest, Shanks said the week encompassed the true mission of GSA.
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“So much of our focus is on treating all people with respect,” said Shanks. “Our club’s activities touch all of the students in our building and help build a positive school climate.”
Beyond fostering positive connections and support for the LGBTQ community, Portage’s GSA has also connected with Snapraise, a digital fundraising platform, where the GSA was able to collect more than $ 4,000 in donations. A portion of which went toward a scholarship for the GSA Club President, PHS senior Emma Alden.
Beyond school walls, many in-person Pride events are planned in southern Wisconsin this month. Drag Queen Story Time, drag shows, and Pride fundraisers in the Dells are all slated for June.
Looking ahead, Sauk County will hold its second-ever Pride festival in August, according to Peggy Goodenow, treasurer of the Baraboo Queers & Allies. Turnout to last year’s event topped 2,000 people.
“We try to create different opportunities for people to feel welcomed and safe,” she said.
The August dates, added Goodenow, were chosen for the proximity to InterPride, a global LGBTQ event in October.
Goodenow maintains that, despite the heightened focus on the LGBTQ community in June, it’s important to acknowledge the community throughout the year.
“We hold to the standard that every month is Pride month,” said Goodenow. “The LGBTQIA+ community still faces a lot of challenges and discrimination.”
Compounding that, she said, is the sense of isolation the last two years have brought on, especially for those in smaller, more rural communities.
“Living in rural communities can enhance the sense of isolation that marginalized people can experience,” she said. “Our goal is to create community and strong allyships.”
Barb Farrar echoed Goodenow’s concerns for rural-based members of the LGBTQ community. As executive director of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin, Farrar has done a lot of outreach in the last couple of years to try and maintain a sense of community, especially for those who may not have the greatest support system in their families and friends.
While the pandemic has brought isolation to the fore in many of the people Farrar works with, it also fostered virtual connections over Zoom and Discord.
“If there’s one positive aspect of COVID, it’s that so many programs for the community in general, but specifically LGBT people, are virtual programs,” she said.
While Farrar’s Center is based in Racine, virtual meetings are open to people across the state.
In total, the LGBT Center holds seven different support groups, with focus on things like spirituality, transgender and nonbinary identities, and queer parenting. All of these groups meet over Zoom, allowing participants the comforts of privacy while still connecting with others.
“A lot of people are more reserved and quiet and are really looking for people who have very, very similar experiences,” said Farrar.