Penn-Goetsch on Pride Month: ‘It is a new world’

Professor of Art History Chris Penn-Goetsch shares her thoughts on what Pride Month means to her.

Professor of Art History Chris Penn-Goetsch
Professor of Art History Chris Penn-Goetsch

The month of June is filled with Pride Month parades and gatherings. Some may even link participation in related events as critical moments in the process of “coming out.”  Nevertheless, Pride celebrations provide safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks to not just “come out,” but, more importantly, to come together and embrace their experiences. Although many of my fondest Cornell College memories circle around courageous students, colleagues, and alumni, I now have a chance to share more of a personal story about the space that was carved out to celebrate Pride at Cornell College throughout the year.

Wedding photo of two people at the altar in Allee Chapel
Penn-Goetsch wedding, 2009

This story begins well before my arrival on campus, when the first organized group for gay men began in 1978, with women joining the group in 1979. The meetings took place at the homes of Professor of English Stephen Lacey and Professor of French and Women’s Studies Diane Crowder until 1993. This was just three years before I began to work on the Hilltop. The beginnings of my own history can be found in the story of the young Lacey whose life was changed when he set foot on Cornell’s campus in 1961. He would return as the first openly gay faculty member of the English department in 1977. This faculty member was soon followed by Crowder, who self-identified as a lesbian after arriving at Cornell. Many alumni will remember visiting Lacey’s home, now the Van Etten-Lacey House, but I also remember small soirees for members of the LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff that could compete with any June Pride festivities. These faculty members created a space for me to grow and provide a safer space for others to thrive. 

People standing behind the Cornell sign
Penn-Goetsch wedding day on the Cornell College campus

And thrive I did. The best historical event to illustrate my own growth at Cornell was the first “legal” wedding held at Cornell College on May 2, 2009. In Allee Chapel, surrounded by students, faculty, and staff, I married Lori Penn-Goetsch on the first Saturday that same-sex marriage was legally possible in Iowa. The process involved the approval of two bishops, Episcopalian as well as United Methodist, President Les Garner, and the Board of Trustees.  Although Lacey was no longer with us, Crowder was there to encourage an environment that fostered LGBTQIA+ Pride on the small campus where I made my home.

Personal journeys are rarely direct or swift. This is surely the case for me. Although most of my classes address identities in various forms, I am now in a different place than I was back in 1996. For the first time, after 25 years at the college, I feel secure enough to offer the first art history course devoted entirely to Queer identity and culture. It is a new world.