In celebration of Pride Month and June Reunion, members of the Washington University Pride Alumni Network (WUpan) enjoyed a happy hour on June 11 that offered pride-themed cookies, drinks, and the chance to mingle with other members of the Washington University LGBTQ+ and ally community. Later this month, the affinity group will also join OUTmed, an LGTBQ+ advocacy group sponsored by the university’s Department of Medicine, in attendance at the St. Louis PrideFest’s Pride Parade. The parade is set to take place at 11 a.m. June 26 on Market Street in downtown St. Louis.
WUpan was founded in 2013 by Lars Etzkorn, AB ’87. A lawyer who lives in Washington, D.C., with his husband, Gregory Hoss, Etzkorn wanted to ensure that WashU remained competitive with its peer institutions when it came to engaging queer alumni. In addition, he wanted to send a welcoming message to current students. “Sometimes the college years are a little scary,” he says. “I wanted [students] to know there was a community waiting for them on the other side of their university experience.”
WUpan’s mission is to foster a sense of community around LGBTQ+ identities and experiences and to promote well-being among all members of the university’s LGBTQ+ community.
Currently, the organization hosts alumni events (primarily in Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and St. Louis), sponsors an annual LGBTQ+ student leadership award, and participates in St. Louis-based Pride Month festivities. Plans to expand WUpan’s programming include launching additional regional networking opportunities and hosting presentations by WashU faculty.
River Chew, AB ’17, MSW ’19, who majored in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minored in studio art during their undergraduate years, was highly involved in the WashU LGBTQ+ community as a student. They came to the Reunion reception seeking additional opportunities to meet people and explore ways to have an impact.
“Being involved in the LGBTQ+ community was a huge part of my undergraduate experience at WashU,” Chew says. “I made so many friends and gained lots of really valuable leadership experience. I’m always looking for ways to continue to give back to the community and make connections with other LGBTQ+ folks, and I’m looking forward to seeing how getting involved with WUpan could help me do that.”
To those like Chew who are curious about what WUpan has to offer, Etzkorn emphasizes the value of staying connected to one’s alma mater in such a personal way. “If you’re new to a city, it’s tremendously comforting to be able to have a community in place and tap into it,” he says. “You not only have the big Washington University connection but also this more specific, very personal one.” And he points out the benefits of engaging with fellow alumni who have diverse experiences that can expand your horizons, while also sharing fundamental similarities.
As previously mentioned, the WUpan Leadership Development Award recognizes WashU LGBTQ+ students and student allies—both graduate and undergraduate—who demonstrate a commitment to leadership through co-curricular engagement. The 2022 winners are Iulia Tothezan, a Master of Social Work candidate in the Brown School; Braxton Sizemore, a second-year student in Arts & Sciences who is majoring in classics and biology; and Melissa Gibson, a second-year premed student in Arts & Sciences with an interest in women’s health care and health equity. Each of the honorees received scholarship money to support their advocacy efforts and development as leaders.
The mission of WUpan echoes a sentiment Etzkorn shared in 1985, during his junior year, in a cover letter for the WashU Student Union’s guide for new students. “We are a community at first defined by our attendance here and later by our academic interests, social groups, religious preferences, political affiliations, nationalities, and a host of other diversifying factors,” he wrote. “What is paramount is that you enjoy Washington University, delight in its diversities, respect different people and their views, and unite in a feeling of school spirit.” Stay tuned for information about future events!