Photos by Iniko McNeil & Jordan Booker
Iniko McNeil Data News Weekly Contributor
It’s Homecoming Season for schools across the city. For most Historically Black Universities, the Annual Coronation to crown a Mr. and Misses are a traditional feature of Homecoming activities, marked with ballgowns, tuxedos and sashes. Often left out from the traditional nature of these activities are non-binary and LGBTQ students.’
Introducing: The Pride Gayla. (sub)
Honorary Queen: New Orleans native and artist-in-residence: Laveau Contraire.
Pronouns: “Any” “Yeah! She, her, they, whatever I look like at the time,” Contraire said as she headlined the second ever Pride Gayla organized by the Office of Inclusion and Social Justice at Xavier University of Louisiana, the country’s only Black and Catholic HBCU, where officials said they are working to ensure that university and its activities welcomes and reflects all students.
The Pride Gayla on Oct. 12th in the university’s Ballroom focused on the theme “Visible Voices” celebrating the work of LGBTQ artists and activists like Contraire. It was the centerpiece of a full Pride Week from Oct. 11th – 18th, that included resources from medical professionals on sexual and mental health and navigating gender, a “Barber & Beauty Shop” talk on the norms of masculinity and femininity, a yoga session to promote well-being and ending with an “HBCU Out Day” in collaboration with the Human Rights Campaign to promote confidence in students affirming their identity.
“It’s amazing because I didn’t get to go to an HBCU so to have this love at an HBCU was just so monumental for me because it makes me feel at home, and I am giving back to the community and people that look like me, so it is just mine blowing,” Contraire said at the Gayla.
Attendees at the Annual Gayla enjoyed a three-course meal while networking and creating community with fellow LGBTQ+ community members along with allies, determined to be themselves and share an intentionally created safe space.
“I think events like this such as our Pride Gayla are super important for our voices and our students’ voices to be heard and tonight’s theme is visible voices,” said Glenn Caston, Xavier’s Inclusion and Social Justice Officer in the Division of Student Affairs.
“What we are trying to do is create institutional change and policy so using these platforms to hear from our students and to really welcome them into the space to ensure their voices are seen in everything they do is what our office focuses on,” said Caston, who also serves as the Head Cheerleading Coach at Xavier.
While legislation in many Southern states is making initiatives around inclusion and equality in the classroom harder for educators, Caston said it is even more important for educators and administrators to allow space for classroom curriculum and environment to reflect all students in the classroom.
“A you can see; legislation right now is pushing out these curriculum … In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to have our students in discourse. They need to be finding themselves wrestling with tough concepts and tough curriculum so that they know not to repeat it.”
Affirmation is not only about being comfortable speaking and standing in one’s truth. It also entails having visual, physical, relatable representation. Contraire embodied that self-acceptance at the Pride Gayla, transforming as a self-described “drag queen extraordinaire.”
The event held a sacred place for Contraire, who said she was inspired to see that institutions in her native city are creating space and celebrating all genders and gender identities, even when historically, they may have been isolated or marginalized.
“The option to be more free and be more daring,” Contraire said. “Because, I always say if I can get on stage looking like this, and doing all that you can, be bold in your everyday life and maybe you’ll wear that extra outfit that you thought was a little too much for the function but if you can come to a Laveau Contraire Concert and see her doing that then maybe you can step out in your sparkles or whatever.”