Monday, April 30, 2018

When Politics and Sexuality Collide: UNCG PRIDE Week, 2004


The intersectionality of political identity versus sex and gender generates combative rhetoric, and UNC Greensboro witnessed such conflict in 2004. PRIDE Week traditionally takes place in March or April on UNC Greensboro’s campus.[1] PRIDE Week was sponsored by the UNC Greensboro student group, PRIDE[2], and included events such as a picnic by a lake, PRIDE Prom, and a student drag show (co-sponsored by the Residence Hall Association), featuring a silent auction and bake sale. The scheduled keynote speaker for UNCG PRIDE Week 2004 was Debra Davis, a retired transgender high school librarian who was executive director of the Gender Education Center.[3] These events were typical of PRIDE Weeks at UNC Greensboro, but the publicity of the week of 2004 was to be unlike that of the past festivities.
Intentionally scheduled to compete with PRIDE Week, the newly formed UNC Greensboro College Republicans scheduled Morality Week at the same time. In the words of a UNC Greensboro senior and member of the College Republicans, “We want to show that there is a large section of society that is not happy with the perverse and degrading change in culture over the past 50 years.”[4] Morality Week began with an affirmative action bake sale, continued with events such as “Right to Life Day,” “No Hump Day,”[5] and a barbecue. The College Republicans selected the University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor, Mike Adams, as their keynote speaker.  The selection and funding of Adams as a speaker caused scandal, as accusations were made by the College Republicans that UNC Greensboro was refusing funding for the conservative speaker and Morality Week events. Argument became especially bitter after Adams wrote an article labeling the university as UNC Gomorrah[6] for funding a lecture by feminist author, photographer, and pornographer, Tristan Taormino, that February.[7]

College Republican chairman, Travis Billingsley, claimed that the student organization was misled purposefully into not filling out an allocation form in order that Morality Week would not receive funds. It was ironic that the College Republicans claimed the lack of funding was overt discrimination, as Jason Crawford, presidential candidate for the College Republicans in 2004, argued for the cutting or elimination of PRIDE’s budget over their Black History Month book display in 2002.[8] As heated debate ensued, the UNC Greensboro Office of Student Life assisted the College Republicans in obtaining $2000 to support their events.[9] When asked why the Office of Student Life decided to step in to offer funding to the College Republicans, Assistant Director of Student Life, Checka Leinwall, stated, “A college campus is one of the hallmark market places of ideas. Morality Week will give our students an opportunity to look at different points of view.”[10]

There was great concern on campus about protests that might occur between organizers at both PRIDE and Morality Week events. The College Republicans’ affirmative action bake sale saw protesters from the UNCG Socialists, UNCG Universalist Unitarians, the NAACP, the UNCG Neo-Black Society, and even a few North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students. There was no report of UNCG PRIDE and the College Republican members protesting each other’s events. According to Michael Bishop, business manager of PRIDE, “We have decided to take the high road. They [the College Republicans] have a right to have it. It is a slap in the face that they are having it in the same week.”[11] Melissa Holland, the Student Government PRIDE representative, went so far as to suggest “The College Republicans should come to some of our events and listen to what we have to say instead of judging us from a far, and we should do the same.”[12]

Both UNC Greensboro PRIDE and the College Republicans considered their respective events successful. Many people were offended, but there was no report of violence. The significance of this clash of politics versus sexuality and gender on a North Carolina university campus, though it did not seem of great importance at the time, is a foreshadowing of the future. In a few years, North Carolina would receive international attention relating to the state government’s stance on marriage equality and trans issues. PRIDE Week versus Morality Week at UNC Greensboro was a small taste of the controversy that would draw the UNC system universities into news headlines with events that are still unfolding.  



[1] UNC Greensboro commemorates PRIDE Week in March, as opposed to June, because the spring semester ends in May, therefore most students would not have the opportunity to celebrate. In 2004, UNC Greensboro PRIDE Week was celebrated from March 18th to March 26th.
[2] As of 2016, the UNC Greensboro LGBTQ student organization changed its name to the Queer Student Union.
[3] Hilary Hellens, “PRIDE Week Rolls along According to Schedule,” The Carolinian, Feb. 18, 2002, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[4] Eren Tartaragasi, “Affirmative Action Bake Sale Draws Fire,” The Carolinian, Feb. 18, 2002, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[5] The College Republicans arranged a presenter to speak on sexual abstinence.
[6] It should be noted that the first Gomorrah reference made to UNC Greensboro is recorded in a letter from disgruntled alumna from 1979.
Mike S. Adams, “Welcome to UNC Gomorrah,” Townhall, March 1, 2004. Accessed Oct. 17, 2017. https://townhall.com/columnists/mikeadams/2004/03/01/welcome-to-unc-gomorrah-n1284950
[7] There was a perception that Taormino’s lecture was funded officially by UNC Greensboro, using taxpayer money. It was not. The funding was aloccated from student fees all incoming students at UNC Greensboro pay, portions of which are distributed to student groups and student services.
 Joe Killian, “Sex Lecturer’s UNCG Visit Sparks Debate,” Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC), March 21, 2004.
[8] Joe Wilbur and John W. Ayers, “PRIDE under Siege,” The Carolinian, March 4, 2002, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[9] Anna Liles, “College Republicans Get Money, Support from OSL,” The Carolinian, March 18, 2004, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Hilary Hellens, “PRIDE Week Rolls along According to Schedule,” The Carolinian, Feb. 18, 2002, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[12] Ibid.

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