The University of Central Florida (UCF) continues to make strides in supporting LGBTQ students and their allies with the recent grand opening of Pride Commons on Sep. 3.
The new LGBTQ-affirming, gathering space is the first of its kind at UCF and promises to transform the way LGBTQ students, faculty and staff connect with one another on-campus and in the broader community.
Florida House Rep. Joe Saunders, who was the keynote speaker at the grand opening ceremony, recalls how nothing like this existed when he attended UCF from 2001-2005.
“We used to just huddle in corners really. We had a cubicle that we would go to sometimes and there was a shared meeting room student organizations could book. There wasn’t one space that people could go,” said Saunders. “I think that’s what really exciting about Pride Commons. At any point, at any time, students can drop in to connect with one another. Students will be drawn to that space because they are going to look for fellowship and camaraderie, but they will find much more.”
Saunders thinks that Pride Commons will help inspire new conversations about activism and advocacy not only at UCF but also contribute to grass-roots movements across Florida to challenge Southern states’ resistance to supporting LGBT equality.
The grand opening ceremony began in the Ferrell Commons auditorium at 3pm with several speeches from both University and community leaders. In addition to Saunders, UCF Pride Coalition Student Direction Nicholas Simons, UCF Student Government Association (SGA) President Melissa Westbrook, UCF Student Development & Enrollment Services (SDES) Vice President Dr. Maribeth Ehaz, and UCF SDES Vice-President of Community Support Services Belinda Boston all spoke at the celebration.
SGA President Westbrook was all smiles as she and the other featured speakers cut the ceremonial grand opening ribbon in front of Pride Common’s entrance.
“The opening of Pride Commons signifies the level of inclusion on our campus,” Westbrook said. “We are working towards meeting the needs of all students. UCF stands for opportunity and this proves it!”
Pride Commons is a joint initiative between SDES, SGA, the Student Union, the Multicultural Student Center, LGBTQ Services and the newly formed SGA agency Pride Coalition.
LGBTQ Services and Pride Coalition staff and student volunteers have been running the space since Pride Common’s soft opening in late July. According to LGBTQ Services/Pride Coalition Graduate Assistant (GA) Cecilia Chik, it is already making a huge impact on students.
“We want to make LGBTQ students at UCF feel at home,” said Chik. “Within Pride Commons being opened for 2 months we have already fulfilled our mission of raising awareness and providing a safe and inclusive space for all. And we look forward to all the growth in our inaugural year.”
Chik, along with her co-GA Chelsea Bender, helps advise and support the Pride Coalition’s day-to-day operations and both report to SDES VP of Community Support Services Belinda Boston. Since 2010, UCF has seen a number of LGBTQ milestones including the addition of gender identity & expression to the University’s anti-discrimination policy, the chartering of the national GBT fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, the opening of the LGBTQ Services office, the formation of the Pride Faculty and Staff Association and most recently the launch of an LGBTQ-oriented SGA programming agency, Pride Coalition, this past July.