Elis come out of Beinecke Plaza closet

Yale students braved the rain Thursday afternoon to walk out of the closet — on Beinecke Plaza.

The event outside Commons — in which students walked through wooden doors to represent the process of sharing one’s sexual orientation with others — was part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale’s celebration of Thursday’s National Coming Out Day.

Two students stand close to the symbolic doors set up on Beinecke Plaza, through which students walked to mark National Coming Out Day.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Two students stand close to the symbolic doors set up on Beinecke Plaza, through which students walked to mark National Coming Out Day.

The atmosphere surrounding the Co-op’s festivities was less charged than it was last year, when several students in a fictional group calling itself the National Organization to Gain Acceptance for Your Sins — or N.O.G.A.Y.S. — posted public fliers and sent out campus-wide e-mails that appeared to condemn homosexuality.

In addition to the activities on Beinecke, the Co-op sponsored several other events to commemorate Coming Out Day, including a [Pierson College] Master’s Tea with gay activist Larry Kramer ’57 on Wednesday, a rally and speech Kramer delivered yesterday and a campuswide Co-op dance tonight.

Throughout the day, Co-op members stood on Beinecke and distributed pamphlets and information about resources available to gay students at Yale.

As students walked through the wooden doors Thursday, they identified themselves as gay or lesbian or declared themselves to be allies of the LGBT community. Despite the stormy weather, the simple presence of the symbolic door on Beinecke Plaza raised awareness about LGBT issues, Co-op Secretary Edgar Diaz-Machado ’09 said.

“Even the people that just walked by could see what we were doing and gained awareness of National Coming Out Day and the existence of an LGBT community on campus,” he said.

But Ya!Lesbians Coordinator Rachel Schiff ’09 said she doubts students seriously considering coming out benefited from the public tabling.

“I don’t think it’s that effective in impacting people who are coming out, because it’s in the middle of Beinecke Plaza and people are rushing to class,” she said.

The Co-op dance, which is scheduled for tonight, however, is a valuable event for the entire Yale community, she said.

At a talk in William L. Harkness Hall following the events on Beinecke Plaza, Kramer voiced his concern about what he sees as a decrease in gay activism since the 1960s, said Diaz-Machado, who attended the event. Kramer said the gay community has grown dormant in its pursuit of change and does not have the same passion it once felt, said Alejandro Bustillos ’11, who was at today’s speech.

In 2001, Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, provided funding for the Larry Kramer Initiative, a five-year program that supported lesbian and gay studies at Yale. After graduating from Yale with a B.A. in English, Larry Kramer began a career as a gay activist, eventually founding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting AIDS.

Diaz-Machado said he found Kramer’s speech today particularly compelling because he thinks the LGBT community at Yale is not committed enough to political activism. He said he thinks undergraduates are particularly uninvolved and tend to be more interested in the social aspect of the Co-op.

“We have 200 people on our mailing list, but only 20 people usually show up to our events,” Diaz-Machado said. “Most people aren’t involved because they want to be politically active.”

Bustillos said some students were frustrated by Kramer’s speech because they think real change through gay activism is hard to achieve. At Yale, students’ quest to engender meaningful dialogue is often stalled by layers of administrative red tape, he said

But Bustillos said he found Kramer’s speech inspirational, and there is a need for leaders such as Kramer who are uncompromising in their defense of gay rights.

“Here, at an extremely prestigious school, we’re very powerful,” Bustillos said. “This institution has created some of the most important leaders. We’re just not as active as we should be.”

Last November, two students in Jonathan Edwards College who claimed responsibility for the N.O.G.A.Y.S. incident — Will Wilson ’09 and Matthew Brimer ’09 — apologized to Co-op Board members.

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