Duke alumni, students, faculty and staff gathered virtually Thursday night to celebrate Pride Month and honor Janie Long, former director of Duke's Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and outgoing associate dean and vice provost in the office of undergraduate education.
The event, hosted by Duke LGBTQ+ Network and emceed by Arjun Daga, Fuqua ‘16, featured short, personal speeches from various alumni and current students, a campy musical performance, a poetry reading and much reference to Long’s dedication to the LGBTQ+ community at Duke.
Steven Soto, Trinity ‘17, paid honor to Long by reminiscing on her enduring kindness.
“When I was on campus, Janie believed in me in a way that no other professor did. In and out of class, she challenged me to tell her something good, and to find gratitude for times, especially when they were hard,” Soto said. “As a wonderful teacher, we all know that she is. Janie helped me expand my mind. But more importantly, she taught me how to see the goodness in myself.”
Nick Antonicci, current director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, spoke to Long’s leadership and enduring legacy.
“Janie, I am immensely grateful for you. You have been a phenomenal role model to me, and are someone whose joy, care and compassion I hold in high regard,” he said. “I believe that your leadership in the Center for LGBT Life, now the CSGD, laid the foundation upon which any and all success in the CSGD is built.”
Long, the night’s distinguished guest, gave a speech as well, detailing her inspiration for expanding the visibility of Duke’s queer community.
Long began by remembering a meeting to discuss a student’s suicide during her first year as director of the then-Center for LGBT Life that pushed her to make LGBTQ+ life and resources more visible.
“I could look out my office window and see the dorm where this had happened. And there was a lot of discussion in that meeting about what we could do to support the students...And even that meeting, no one ever said, ‘this student was queer,’” she said. “All I could think when I left that meeting was that we were just across the lawn ... and yet, we were a million months away from that student and many others. As I drove home that night, I reaffirmed to myself that I was going to build the biggest, most visible village that I could build, and that that village had to cut across the university.”
Long emphasized that her mission to build a “more visible village” was not accomplished alone, but rather with the help of student groups, staff, leadership, undergraduates and graduate students.
“Someone along the way supported each one of us. And that's why we're here now. Someone helped us to get here,” Long said.
During the virtual parade, a short video message from President Vincent Price was played.
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“Pride is both a time for reflection, and a call to action, celebrating past progress, and building awareness about current challenges,” Price said in his recorded video message. “It's also a reminder that Duke's greatest strength is our diversity, and that by bringing together different perspectives, we build a stronger, more resilient community.”
Grace O’Connor, a senior and president of Blue Devils United, called on attendees to advocate for the rights of transgender individuals, especially in the wake of a record-shattering wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation that she noted “[advances] harmful misinformation and that continue to dehumanize and oppress trans and non binary people.”
The night also served to highlight the extent to which Duke’s atmosphere has changed over the years—from one hostile to LGBTQ+ people to a more inclusive campus.
Sterly Wilder, Trinity ‘83, recounted an incident where she and her father, Pelham Wilder, a former university marshal and professor emeritus of chemistry, woke up early one morning to take down mean-spirited posters around campus that were outing a member of Duke staff.
Shep Moyle, Trinity ‘84, spoke about his once failure to be an ally to his best friend at Duke, which he described as “not welcoming and did not provide a supportive community” at the time.
“My best friend and I did not discuss his true self until many years later. As a friend, as an ally, and as a human, I failed this amazing man. I missed out on knowing important parts of him. I failed to be an advocate for him. And I said it failed to support him and the community from my position of privilege and leadership,” he said. “It is this experience that has shaped, motivated and dedicated me to the cause in the decades.”
Other speakers shared projects or promoted research during the event.
Mikael Owunna, Pratt ‘12, shared various photography projects, detailing the engineering and artistic process behind the images.
Hayley Cunningham, a med school resident planing to specialize in infectious diseases with a focus on HIV prevention and treatment, promoted a registry to enroll individuals who identify as a gender or sexual minority for research that “promotes LGBTQIA+ health and wellness.”
The event’s highlights included a musical drag performance from Rence Nemeh, Trinity ‘15. Nemeh performed two numbers, “Chicken Tenders” and “Friends for the Night," to great praise from the meeting’s attendees. Additionally, Tim’m West, Trinity ‘94, performed a personal spoken word piece about race and sexuality.
The event’s over 100 attendees made one thing clear—even virtually, community was evident.
“That's really what this night has been about, about us all coming together and knowing that we are part of something really important,” said Jack Boyd, Trinity ‘85 and one of the event’s organizers.
Preetha Ramachandran is a Trinity junior and senior editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.