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LGBTQ Center 'imagines liberation' for Pride Week 2022

Nikalaus Ward, a student at the UNC LGBTQ Center, looks through boxes of specially designed new t-shirts that read "Imagine Liberation" for Pride Week, as Tiosa Iyamu folds zines.

The UNC's LGBTQ Center has collaborated with on-campus and outside organizations to host this week's annual Pride Week at UNC, which will run until Friday.   

This year's events — which have been hosted since 2019 — are centered around the theme "Imagine Liberation." 

"What does liberation look like?" said Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center. "What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? We've got to be thinking about the world we want to create."

The center's theme is based on the concept of Afrofuturism, which Anole Harper – the group facilitator of Trans Talk Tuesday – said reimagines a Black-led future rooted in liberation.

Jamillae Stockett, assistant director of The LGBTQ Center, said she finds a lot of comfort with Afrofuturism because it can help guide marginalized communities to imagine a world of better alternatives.

"As we look at a lot of the current political climate, how we can imagine that future?" Stockett said. "And how we can allow our communities to imagine what that future would look like?"

The scheduled events for Pride Week revolve around both the "Imagine Liberation" theme and its basis in Afrofuturism. 

"I think a lot of our events are really broad, intentionally, to open up that space to get all those perspectives and what that looks like and what that means to them," Stockett said.

Applying the theme

Stockett said she hopes this year's theme serves as a way to connect with the campus community and provides a look into the local LGBTQ+ community.

Phoenix said the "Letters of Liberation" event happening throughout the week aims to send a message of support, encouragement and validation to LGBTQ+ youth in response to the anti-trans and anti-gay legislation around the country. 

The center is partnering with Time Out Youth, iNSIDEoUT and UpsideDown – all North Carolina organizations serving LGBTQ+ youth – to get those messages to the young people who need them, T said. 

The LGBTQ+ Center set up a table on April 5 and 6 at the Pit to promote letter-making. Following the event, however, writers can continue to share their letters on social media with the hashtag #LettersOfLiberation or drop them off at the LGBTQ Center by Friday to be mailed. 

"Really just trying to get a message of support, affirmation," Phoenix said. "You are valued. There's nothing wrong with you, despite what everyone says."

On Thursday evening, social work masters' student Mariel Eaves will host a conversation with writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown about what Afrofuturism means and how it can be used as a path to the future.

And The LGBTQ+ Center is also working with UNC's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fellows on "Photovoice: What does Liberation Look Like at UNC?" – a research project collecting photos expressing what liberation means and looks like on campus. 

"For example, I might take a picture of a gender nonspecific bathroom, right?" Phoenix said. "Or I might take a picture of a flag or a SafeZone sign on a door."

Imagining Liberation

Phoenix said it is easy to get overwhelmed or lost in inequity, injustice, or simply how little legislation has changed — despite working towards it for so long.

However, Phoenix said what T gained from Afrofuturism will allow people to keep looking forward.

“It's not like pasting over or ignoring what is," Phoenix said. "It's not like 'Oh, things will be better someday, we just need to wait.' It's not that. It's recognizing the reality of what is and then dreaming your way, imagining your way, envisioning your way forward to something that is more liberating.” 

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Senior Writer Hannah Rosenberger contributed to reporting.

Anole Halper, the program coordinator at the UNC LGBTQ Center, composes a letter for the Letters of Liberation event on Monday, April 4, 2022.