KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Pride flag representing the diverse range of identities across the U.S. and the world was painted on The Rock on the University of Tennessee's campus Wednesday.
Alongside it was an iconic phrase — Vol Means All. Students also painted "Happy Pride," wishing everyone a happy Pride Month. Wednesday marked its first day and after painting The Rock, the UT Pride Center also created a background for people to use on Zoom to celebrate Pride Month.
That design features a Knoxville landscape painted in all colors of the rainbow. It also includes the iconic phrase — Vol Means All.
Pride Month is meant to celebrate the many identities found within communities across the U.S. and across the world. For many people, it's also a protest against oppression — a month-long rally for the LGBTQ+ community to stand against hate while enjoying the freedom to be who they are.
"They face a lot of discrimination out in our community, whether it's laws, whether it's personal sentiments, so I think it's really important for people who are out in our community to show that it's okay to be whatever your identity is," said one of the students who painted The Rock. "There's nothing wrong with it."
The UT Pride Center is also planning to host an online Safe Zone workshop on Tuesday. It will teach people about the intersections of gender, sexuality and other identities while also teaching people how to navigate some common LGBTQ+ issues.
They will also host an annual vigil for the 49 people who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting. In June 2016, a gunman massacred a crowd of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando before he died too.
In 2016, Tennessee lawmakers also defunded the Pride Center following controversies about pronouns. Officials also implemented severe restrictions on how the university could spend money on inclusiveness.
The law, which went into effect without former Governor Bill Haslam's signature, reallocated funding from the Officer of Diversity and Inclusion and gave it to a new scholarship fund and did not allow any funding or resources to go toward "the use of gender-neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support sex week.”
Since then, the university has worked to be more inclusive on campus. The Pride Center has gotten additional funding, eventually hiring staff members. It also organizes many events such as annual "Friendsgiving" events and works to educate people about LGBTQ+ health.