Pride@Yale, past and present

Ryan Mendías understands pride.

1977: Professor George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89 and a group of other undergraduates organize Yale’s first Gay Rights Week, the event from which the current Pride@Yale claims ancestry. In a 2009 article in the Yale Alumni Magazine, Chauncey described the event as “one long effort to encourage people to come out: first by asking them to staff tables outside every college dining hall — where, ultimately, we collected 2,000 signatures in support of the Connecticut Gay rights bill; then by asking everyone to wear pink triangles (we were a bit ahead of the curve, so we couldn’t buy buttons and had to make them out of construction paper); and then by staging the first-ever gay rally — and dance — on Cross Campus.”

1980: David Norgard DIV ’83 founds the Gay and Lesbian Co-op.

1982: The Co-op launches GLAD — Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days. After a week of lectures, poetry readings, and film screenings, the event concludes with the first-ever gay rally on Cross Campus. Yale has had a similar event in April every year since, with the program growing from GLAD to Pride Month to its current incarnation. In addition, the Yale Corporation alters Yale’s antidiscrimination policy, arguing that Yale has a commitment to “respecting an individual’s attitudes on a variety of matters that are essentially personal in nature.”

1987: The Wall Street Journal publishes “‘Lipsticks’ and Lords: Yale’s New Look,” the story containing the “1 in 4” statistic. University President Benno Schmidt ’63 LAW ’66 disputes this idea of Yale as “a gay school” in a letter to alumni and donors. In the same year, Yale’s new Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, one of only two in the United States, hosts its inaugural conference.

2006: Yale hires Maria Trumpler to serve as the “special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ affairs.”

INTERVIEW: Hilary O’Connell ’14, organizer of Pride

Q. Why did you want to be one of the organizers of Pride@Yale?

A. It’s part of my job as Co-op president, but even if it had not been, I still would have tried to get involved this year. For me, personally, pride is such a divergence from the shame I associated with my queer identity in high school. Going from that to feeling proud enough to organize this scale of event for the Yale community — developing that pride — has been, probably, the most important part of my experience.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with Pride@Yale this year?

A. When we went into it, we went in trying to make this really a grassroots-scale event. Pride is huge — it’s six weeks of one, sometimes two, events almost every day. One thing Pride has attempted to do in the past, and that we really wanted to do this year, is reach out to other communities. We’re becoming aware that to be LGBTQ is not to not be anything else. There are subsets of the queer, feminist, anti-racist and culturally concerned communities that should all be working together towards a larger project of equality. People whose identities are tied to minority groups often feel marginalized in LGBTQ discourses. So that’s been interesting for me, with examples like the “Are we there yet?” talk on Christianity and the “Out and Asian” event. We’re reaching out to communities where queerness might not even be that visible.

Q. How have you found the experience of reaching out to different organizations?

A. There’s been a fantastic response from the community. Just as Co-op coordinator, I’ve been surprised by the number of groups you wouldn’t ever expect to contact me, saying, “We’re having an incredible event; do you want to co-sponsor it?” Coalition-building has been an important part of being coordinator. A lot of those relationships will last for years to come. Maybe the most important thing about Pride is bringing communities together.

Q. What have your personal favorites been?

A. I have a lot of pet events this year! Our keynote event was the “Love Makes a Family” exhibit. Family is a topic that gets brought up a lot in the public discourse around queerness. It’s a word that brings with it feelings of pride and shame for people of this age, particularly for people coming out, some of whom had bad experiences with their families. We invited Diana Adams, a polyamory advocate and family law attorney, who will talk about the changing face of the family. Another event I anticipate is our talk about frats, sororities and athletic teams as allies. To have Greek life is so unexpected, but it’s really important — I mean, talk about an invisible population: consider queer members of Greek life. They’re in a community thought of as very heteronormative. I’m also looking forward to “Beyond Butch/Femme,” as someone who identifies with particular parts of dyke femininity. We’re just going to let people talk, because nobody talks about butch and femme identity; people think about it as a dichotomy, being only one or the other, but that’s nonsense.

Q. What do you make of recent developments in LGBTQ support at Yale?

A. Maria Trumpler [the director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources] is my hero. With the insititution and LGBTQ-specific things, I wouldn’t honestly say there’s been that much change. Sexually, the campus is making good steps; the introduction of programs like the Communication and Consent Educators is a good step. The Office of LGBTQ Resources is a big deal. The expansion of gender-neutral housing is a huge win for the entire campus. Ideologically speaking, it’s a huge win for the LGBTQ community, and, practically speaking, it’s a huge win for LGBTQ — particulalry trans — students. The sexed housing Yale assigns from freshman year on can be hugely problematic for students whose legal sex does not match with their felt gender. Another note about the campus’s general policy is that we have seen great strides for L, G, B and Q students, but not the same care for trans students. I’m hoping to see Yale take steps to fix that.

Q. What do you foresee as the future of Pride@Yale?

A. From Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days to Pride Week, from Pride Month to our nebulous six weeks of Pride@Yale, we’ve seen a lot of change. One of my friends said to me recently, “How are you doing Pride Month? It’s crazy!”, and then she goes, “Isn’t your life just Pride days all the time?” That’s what I want to see for the LGBTQ community and their allies at Yale. It’s not enough to see that once a year. The ever-increasing pride on campus is symptomatic of that — we don’t have enough time! I could envision the whole year being a Pride Year at Yale. Practically speaking, we could add another day every year. Pride as an ideal is really important. Another celebration Yale has been participating in more recently, another way of making pride an ideal, is IvyQ, the conference open to undergraduates throughout the Ivy League. Yale is bidding to host IvyQ next year — if that’s in February and Pride is in April, it’s going to be a Pride spring!

Q. What does it mean to have these events?

A. The fact is that Pride is not only widely advertised but also widely supported by campus institutions, including Yale College itself and offices like the Office of LGBTQ Resources. Controversies like the one about Sex Week happen because we don’t think of sexual expression, sexuality, all these things, as being completely natural, normal parts of our daily lives. What’s remarkable about Yale and not necessarily true of other spaces in our lives is that we’re in a place where being LGBTQ is seen as being normal and natural. That’s an important general indication of this community. That’s not to say homophobia and transphobia don’t exist; it’s just that the visibility of events like Pride makes it unacceptable for these views to be voiced in public. It’s the first of many important steps. Especially for students who aren’t out, it’s important to see that celebration is the norm, not the exception. People going to events and not being in the community is fantastic; I couldn’t ask for more than that. If we can have that, like with our “Reclamation!” event where half the room was LGBTQ-community folks and the other half was linguistics majors, we’ll be bringing together people.

Q. Thirty-five years on, what do you want Yale’s LGTBQ scene to look like?

A. I’ll be 55, returning to Yale for GALA (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association) events. Coming back to campus, what will be so beautiful about our queer future will be that we won’t even consider the question of whether others will challenge our celebrating pride. We won’t need to change our perception of the American family, we’ll need no change in our perception of the American family — the family will look bigger than it does right now, With issues of marriage, we won’t think of it as a fight. Hopefully, in 35 years, there will be no question of whether a same-gender couple can raise a child as well as a heterosexual couple. I hope Yale’s LGBTQ community can celebrate without fear of censorship, or fear of criticism, without any regard of what people think when they hear those words.

NTERVIEW: Ryan Mendías ’13, organizer of Pride Month at Yale 2011

Q. Why did you want to be one of the organizers for Pride Month?

A. As LGBTQ Co-op Coordinator last year, I had to – it’s one of the main responsiblities. I spent the entire year involved with Pride Month programming. It’s one of the most visible reminders that we have an active, really diverse LGBTQ community on this campus.

Q. What were the highlights of your Pride Month experience?

A. The talks by Austin Scarlett, a finalist on Project Runway, and Krista Burton, who writes the blog Effing Dykes, whose events drew well over 50 people each. A lot of the people weren’t queer in any way, and it was exciting to see them be part of it, with even straight allies and Yalies not involved with anything LGBTQ attending. I appreciate anything that brings them in. For me, one of the best events was a discussion called “Am I Gay Enough: Whose LGBTQ Community Is It Anyway?” It reflected this division over the years between people who are active and affiliated with the Co-op and people for whom getting involved just isn’t what they want. Those people who aren’t involved sometimes think the Co-op is trying to prescribe a way of being gay. People in the Co-op think that people who aren’t involved unfairly jugde those who are. The tension has been reducing over the last few years, and at that event we had a room full of people who’ve never really been at a Co-op event before, talking about what kind of community they want to be involved in. I think the parties are always really great too. Since I’ve been a freshman, there’s been a real renaissance: there were almost none my freshman year, and they were in sketchy basements. Moving them to a more visible place was a big step.

Q. Based on what you’re heard anecdotally, how did Pride Month come to its modern form?

A. Early on, Gay Rights Week at Yale was very, very political, about getting sexual orientation added to the list of protected categories in Connecticut. There was a political goal people were trying to achieve. The early ’80s were a similar period, with an added focus on doing less explicitly political work and trying to raise awareness more generally — that’s why the event was called Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days. It showed that gay people are our friends, our roommates, our classmates, not this isolated community that exists nowhere near us. With the emergence of AIDS, that political focus just got a lot stronger. The early ’90s were a really political time for gay and lesbian student activists, because people were literally dying; Yale students were getting sick. A community a lot of Yale students were a part of was facing this horrendous challenge that provided political impetus. I don’t know if we have lost that political angle. I know a few years ago we had Pride Week at Yale, and Pride’s become so big that we have a lot of things that are political but aren’t explicitly so; for instance, some people would say that some of the cultural stuff we’re doing is [political]. That’s part of the expansiveness. which is less focused on specific political goals and more about LGBT progress and community-building.

Q. What do you think is the external impression people had of Pride Month?

A. We sent an email to the entire school. People are generally pretty receptive to it; we sent this to basically every Yale student, and we didn’t get the kind of responses you do to emails sent to panlists, which are “Take me off, take me off.” People accept this as something that happens every year, the same way Latino Heritage Month might happen. For people who are really involved, it’s the high volume of programming they’re already used to. For people who aren’t involved in the Co-op at all, Pride provides at least one event they want to go to. The LGBT community has an almost constant presence on campus, [so] that some people who aren’t that involved don’t realize that Pride is a separate month of programming. I told one of my friends that Pride Month was starting, and he said he feels like every month is Pride Month at Yale.

Q. What do you think is the future of Pride Month?

A. One thing I’d really be excited about is more connections with alumni. I think that especially because the community has changed a lot. The full acronym LGBT only really made sense to a lot of alums 10 or 15 years ago. The Co-op was organized in a very different way then. Forty years ago, a visible organized LGBT community didn’t really exist. So I would like to see more and more engagement with people who have graduated. GALA, the LGBTQ alumni organization, is already modeling what I want to see in the future. They’re great, and I appreciate their relationship to Pride Month.

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