LGBTQ+ community finds support through Hilltopper Pride Network

Patrick+Collins%2C+a+meteorologist+with+the+Kentucky+Mesonet+Center+at+WKU%2C+at+the+Research+and+Development+Center+on+Oct.+22%2C+2021.+Collins+is+the+co-chair+of+the+Hilltopper+Pride+Network%2C+an+or-+ganization+comprised+of+LGBTQ%2B+friendly+staff+and+faculty+members+with+the+goal+of+helping+WKU%E2%80%99s+LGBTQ%2B+community.

Michael Dylan Payne

Patrick Collins, a meteorologist with the Kentucky Mesonet Center at WKU, at the Research and Development Center on Oct. 22, 2021. Collins is the co-chair of the Hilltopper Pride Network, an or- ganization comprised of LGBTQ+ friendly staff and faculty members with the goal of helping WKU’s LGBTQ+ community.

Michael Dylan Payne, News reporter

The Hilltopper Pride Network serves the LGBTQ+ faculty and staff on campus.

Patrick Collins, a meteorologist with the Kentucky Mesonet System and co-chair of the Hilltopper Pride Network, said the organization first made an appearance on campus nearly three decades ago as an under- ground group for LGBTQ+ members of the staff and faculty.

“It was supposed to be kind of a hub for us to be able to connect, because there’s not really a lot of support within Kentucky for the LGBT community,” Collins said. “It wasn’t until about the mid-90s that it actually became more of an actual thing—and then within the last five or six years, it’s actually became a more cohesive [organization].”

Having student and faculty groups on campus gives LGBTQ+ folks support and a sense that the university includes them. It sends a positive message of inclusion to people in our community.”

— Molly Kerby

The Hilltopper Pride Network provides organizational support to the WKU Pride Center located in DSU, as well as a list of faculty and staff members who are allies of the WKU LGBTQ+ community—people that students and staff alike can reach out to for support, Collins said.

“The organization is growing year by year, we started out back in the 90’s with maybe 10 or so faculty and staff,” Collins said. “It’s exponentially grown in the last 15 to 20 years and I am ex- tremely proud to be part of this.”

WKU has gone from one small student-led support group to three thriving LGBTQ+ student groups on campus, the Queer Student Union, Out in Honors, and the Trans Non-Binary Club, something Collins believes the Hilltopper Pride Network contributed to.

Molly Kerby, co-chief diversity officer for WKU and member of the Hilltopper Pride Network, said while society has come a long way in recognizing the humanity of members of the LGBTQ+ community, bigotry still exists.

“Students not only need the sup- port of each other; they need faculty & staff support as well,” Kerby said via email. “I always tell students to find a faculty or staff member to be your ‘person,’ your ‘mentor,’ while you are here and to check in with them regularly.”

The Hilltopper Pride Network tells WKU students and Bowling Green that the LGBTQ+ community is here, visible, and willing to help, Kerby said.

“I grew up believing people who identified as gay or lesbian—not much talk of bisexual or transgender/ nonbinary when I was a kid—were an abomination and there was something mentally ‘wrong’ with them,” Kerby said. “During pride month, I truly celebrate all the people who helped—and still help—to change that ideology.”

Kerby said as Pride month wraps up, the importance of organizations that make people feel welcome and a part of the community at WKU cannot be understated

“Having student and faculty groups on campus gives LGBTQ+ folks support and a sense that the university includes them,” Kerby said. “It sends a positive message of inclusion to people in our community.”

Michael Dylan Payne can be reached at [email protected] wku.edu. Follow him on Twitter @ mdpayne_.