If the average Yale student were asked about the Yale LGBT Cooperative, he would most likely say it is the gay group that throws a dance party in the fall. If the average gay Yale student were asked about the Co-op, he would most likely admit it isn’t all that relevant to the gay Yale experience or would have no sentiment at all. Considering that Yale, the “gay Ivy,” has such a thriving gay community, the Co-op should be a valued institution that many gay students feel included in. Instead, the Co-op is becoming extraneous in the campus lives of many Yale gays. Being a minority within a minority, I have personally witnessed at the Afro-American Cultural Center how a community at Yale can successfully unite and form a real sense of solidarity among its members, or at least have an impact that those members acknowledge as significant. As I look back on my four years, I wonder why the Co-op has not functioned similarly for the gay community.
My friends and I have been organizing the first gay night at Toad’s Place. All of the proceeds are going to local gay organizations including the Co-op and the New Haven Gay and Lesbian Center. Toad’s has recently come under fire from the Queer Political Action Committee and the Co-op for hosting reggae artists there who have hateful lyrics, which led to an open-ended boycott of Toad’s by QPAC.
While this debate has not been settled, my friends and I thought that having a gay fundraiser at Toad’s would be not only a great way to unite fractured gay communities in New Haven but an excellent jumping-off point for a relationship between Toad’s and the Co-op that could foster a constructive dialogue. Brian Phelps, the owner of Toad’s, was very excited about the opportunity to reach out to a community that he felt had unjustly branded him a homophobe. So where is the problem?
After several meetings with the more-than-cooperative Phelps, I presented the idea to the leadership of the entire Co-op board, thinking they would gratefully accept an unsolicited donation. Instead I was met with extreme resistance. I even offered to facilitate a meeting between QPAC and Phelps after the event, as they have been unsuccessful in the past. I was told in not so many words that working with Toad’s would be like cooperating with the devil, and any funds gained would be tainted with the spilled blood of abused gay Jamaicans. I vaguely recall a comparison between Toad’s and Sudanese oil companies … not a joke.
This radical stance, though admirable in the abstract, has prodcued few tangible results. The Co-op missed several opportunities in such a reaction. The first was a chance not only to gain exposure and much-needed funding, but also to potentially unite fractured communities. Secondly, the Co-op completely alienated a person who was, at the core, just trying to help. When my friends and I started planning the idea, we were sure the Co-op would be glad to see new members of the community contributing who actually wanted to give something back to an organization whose efforts are often under-appreciated. Instead we were met with hostility and viewed as a group of outsiders entering someone else’s territory. We were even told that we needed a certain number of “points” to even vote in the meeting; last time I checked I didn’t need a merit badge to be a contributing member of the gay community.
The interaction made me question what or who exactly the Co-op is. I’m a senior, so my relationship with the co-op will be ending soon whether I like it or not. But what if I were a sophomore who was met with such resistance to an idea whose purpose, no matter what political implications, was to help the gay community? Surely, that sophomore’s future contact with the Co-op would be limited to the fall dance, if that.
The Co-op is supposed to represent the interests of the gay community, not to serve as a mouthpiece for extreme ideological and political stances that might not be shared by the gay community as a whole. Symbolic initiatives are great, but if they exclude other efforts that could actually help in making Toad’s, and institutions like it, more welcoming to the gay community, the Co-op is undermining its very mission.
As the Co-op meets today to elect its leadership for next semester, I hope those running keep in mind the true goal of the Co-op: to foster a sense of community. I do not believe the Co-op is some archaic institution that has outlasted its necessity; however, if it truly seeks to be a consensus organization that unites people in the gay community, it should think of more ways to reach out than only condoning ideas that an unfortunately small group of people think pass political muster.
Tre Borden is a senior in Calhoun College.