Pride Place continues to create an immersive community for LGBTQ students

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Janae Gamara sits in her hallway on Wednesday night at the Pride Place Residential Community. 

Before Pride Place, junior Brennan Lewis was unsure if they would have a "normal" first-year experience in their dorm room. As a non-binary student, they wondered if their physical safety and mental health would be in jeopardy. 

With other LGBTQ+ students, allies and the support of the University's administration, they decided to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ students to live and study.

Pride Place, now in its second year, is a residential learning program in Cobb Hall dedicated to forging relationships within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Before Pride Place, each student had to be assigned a specific housing placement based on their individual needs. 

Pride Place residential adviser Cameron West received the same training as RA's in other residential halls, but he is also responsible for creating a curriculum for bimonthly meetings. During these meetings, a topic is discussed with all members of Pride Place, most recently on a TED Talk about labels, identities and how society perceives them. 

Pride Place stresses community immersion with monthly meal and movie nights, allowing non-LGBTQ+ members of Cobb Hall to participate every other month.

"It gives me great satisfaction to know that every member has something in common," West said. "They have something they can relate on, to a certain extent, which allows them to connect with one another. And seeing that over the past few weeks has been incredible."

Sophomore Janae Gamara discovered Pride Place when browsing the housing website prior to her first year. Coming from a high school with a small number of LGBTQ+ students, Janae knew that coming to UNC would be a big adjustment. 

“It just feels like home," she said. "There are a lot of different identities within Pride Place that you wouldn’t get to know elsewhere."

With all the progress the University has made in its quest toward inclusivity, there are still obstacles that lie ahead. In 2013, the UNC Board of Governors voted to ban gender-neutral housing. 

 “The problem right now is that if you have a transgender guy coming into campus, you cannot house him with another male student, he would have to be placed with a woman," Lewis said.

Even within Pride Place there are improvements to be made.The bathrooms in Pride Place are at opposite ends of the hall, making students cross the hall to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Doing so exposes their gender identity, which some students may not be comfortable sharing. 

As an RA, West believes the ultimate goal of Pride Place is to gain access to a space that would permit gender-neutral bathrooms directly next to the rooms. 

"It’s a possibility, we are never going to stop trying in order to reach that success," West said. 

If students are interested in living at Pride Place, they can submit an application found on the Carolina Housing Website. For students who want to be involved in Pride Place but not live there, they can contact an RA to participate in events held for the entire community -- like workshops on gender, race and class. 

“We currently don’t have any good options for transgender folks on campus in terms of housing," Lewis said. "I think Pride Place is a step in the right direction, but without overturning the decision by the Board of Governor’s, it’s really hard to find people a place where they feel they’re being seen for who they are."

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