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Members of the UNF LGBTQ community share their stories for Pride Month

June 1 marked the first day of Pride Month, a time to celebrate and increase the visibility of the LGBTQ community. However, the University of North Florida’s LGBTQ Center closed a month before.

UNF announced it would be phased out alongside other Office of Diversity and Inclusion centers last semester, in compliance with SB 266 and Florida Board of Governors Regulation 9.016.

These regulations ban the use of state or federal funds on university programs and activities that “advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion” or “promote or engage in political or social activism.” 

In 2022, UNF was recognized as one of the best colleges for LGBTQ students in the southeast; two years later, the LGBTQ center is closed. (Jeanne Gilbert)

Manny Velasquez-Peredes, the current UNF career education director, is also the former director of the LGBTQ Center. He explained the importance of LGBTQ visibility in today’s turbulent political climate. 

“We live in a very divisive political climate right now where LGBTQ+ people are being attacked, mainly by the people who are supposed to be protecting them,” said Velasquez-Peredes.

“We need to celebrate Pride to remind our political leaders that LGBTQ+ people are part of their communities. We are parents, we are children, we are teachers, we are business owners and we need to be respected, just like everyone else,” he said.

Velasquez-Paredes told the story of a formative experience during his time as LGBTQ Center director.

One Friday afternoon, a non-binary student visited the LGBTQ Center in tears, afraid to lose a long-time friendship. Velasquez-Paredes said the student had not yet come out to their friend because they felt the friend might judge their new identity.

Luckily, the LGBTQ Center had just implemented a mental health counseling program, and the student talked about the issue, Velasquez-Paredes said. He noticed the student and their friend visited the center and maintained their friendship over the next two years.

“To see from the very beginning how alone and desperate the student felt, to guide them through the process of being able to overcome those fears. That was one of the best days at my job because I felt like we were really there to make a difference,” Velasquez-Paredes said.

Velasquez-Paredes also talked about the significance of coming out for members of the LGBTQ community. 

“If somebody chooses to come out to you, [you] should feel honored to be included in that,” he said. “Having to share that secret that they’ve been carrying around for so long may actually end up saving their life … [you] should be there for that person.”

UNF LGBTQ Center Director Manny Velasquez-Paredes holds rainbow flags in the air and claps as President Moez Limayem’s procession made its way through the student union after his official inauguration, April 14, 2023.  (Justin Nedrow)

According to students like Madeline Russell, Pride Month celebrates something that wasn’t always accepted.

“I spent a very large portion of my life not being able to share details about who I am because of backlash from people I know and family members. Now that I’m out, I have that ability to express myself,” said Russell.

Russell is a UNF freshman studying American Sign Language. She said she’s finally happy to be her authentic self.

“Pride month is special because I have the opportunity to celebrate [something] that I didn’t have before,” Russell said.

With the LGBTQ Center now closed, Valesquez-Paredes provided a list of resources for LGBTQ people at UNF, in Jacksonville and across the country:

LGBTQ+ Resources

He also hopes corporations and individuals celebrate and recognize Pride year-round, not just this month. 


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Madelyn Schneider
Madelyn Schneider, News Editor
Justin Nedrow
Justin Nedrow, Photographer
Justin Nedrow is a Jacksonville-based photographer who started volunteering for Spinnaker in 2020 and recently graduated in spring 2023 with a degree in sports management from the University of North Florida. Taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos, Justin has helped Spinnaker reporters cover everything from sports games, protests, ordinary campus life and more. Photography is a passion project for Justin, one he started to meet new people and express himself without words.

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