This month is Pride Month: the four weeks of the year when members of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and others) community celebrate their diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and fight for improved rights for those who identify as queer. Various activities and events are taking place in Zurich throughout June. The annual Pride parade takes place on Saturday, 17 June, this year with the motto “Let’s talk about it”.
The University of Zurich will be taking part in the parade together with the student association PolyUniQue. On 16 and 17 June, representatives from UZH and other Zurich universities as well as PolyUniQue will have a stand at the Pride Festival on the Kasernenareal. There, visitors can find out how universities are championing queer rights.
The origins of the student organization go back more than 30 years. In 1989, gay students from UZH and ETH founded the z&h (“zart und heftig” or “tender and tough”) association. Then around 10 years ago, the L-Punkt association for lesbian, bisexual and queer women was founded. In April 2021, the two associations merged to form what is now known as PolyUniQue, which is open to all university members who identify as queer, regardless of their specific sexual orientation or gender identity. “The aim of the merger was to become more inclusive and to have one association so that people don’t have to decide which one fits them best,” says board member Lilith Achermann. All are welcome: “Everyone who shows up gets to participate.”
The group currently has over 100 members, with an average age between 20 and 25. Most of them are students at UZH and ETH, plus a few from the Zurich University of Teacher Education and the Zurich University of the Arts. Regular meetings throughout the year attract around 20 to 30 attendees, depending on the type of event and capacity of the venue. There is now also a subgroup for former students who can meet likeminded alumni in the Alumnx group. PolyUniQue is not only for students, Achermann explains: “We’re also happy for university staff to join, but they may feel more comfortable in the Alumnx group, where the average age is higher.”
With PolyUniQue, I have also found a great community that is fully accepted by UZH and can also benefit from the many events and services on offer at the uni.
The meetings always focus on fostering community: dinners, hikes, game nights and museum visits allow queer university members to get together and exchange ideas and experiences. “Our main activities involve organizing events and opportunities to get together, alongside promoting the interests of the queer community within higher education,” says Achermann. “With PolyUniQue, I have also found a great community that is fully accepted by UZH and can also benefit from the many events and services on offer at the uni.” If a member has a suggestion for a new event, the board is happy to help implement it.
PolyUniQue has planned several special events during Pride Month, the highlight being participation in the Pride parade on 17 June. But what exactly does LGBTQIA+ Pride mean? For Achermann, there are two important poles: “It’s about celebrating what we’ve already accomplished and also recognizing what still needs to be done. The LGBTQIA+ community really had to fight hard for rights and acceptance in the past and continues to do so, nowadays in particular for societal recognition and acceptance of trans and non-binary people.” Pride is both a celebration and a demo, and aims to show that all members of the queer community have an equal right to exist.
PolyUniQue also advocates for LGBTQIA+ issues in higher education, and has a commission to try to improve matters at policy level. There is room for improvement, believes Achermann, especially for trans and non-binary people: “Simplifying the process to change one’s gender in official documents as well as introducing a gender-neutral option, and providing gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms in all university buildings – these would be improvements,” believes Achermann. The picture looks a little different for those who are part of the queer community due to their sexual orientation – i.e. lesbian, gay and bisexual people. “These days most people are very open to sexual minorities. There’s not that much that the university as an institution could or should do differently. UZH should continue demonstrating its openness and acknowledging the needs of this group.”
Recognition, openness, community, acceptance: that’s what Pride Month is all about. And so is PolyUniQue. Here, students from all the Zurich higher education institutions who identify as queer can find a place where they can be themselves, without fear or shame. For Lilith Achermann, the sense of community that the association offers is unbeatable. She has made many close friends through the association, and feels proud to be part of the queer community. She’ll attend the Pride parade this coming Saturday with those friends: “We want to show that we are here, that we’ll continue the fight, and that together as a community we have many strengths.”