I make a weekly trek from Davenport to start my shift in the gray brick building at Prospect and Sachem Street. The establishment, which faces the mighty orange and white towers of Pauli Murray, is Founders Hall. A blue square plaque with white letters in Yale Street typeface lets visitors know this place is affiliated with Yale University.
When slipping through the glass-window entrance, colors crowd the walls in nearly every direction. At the front desk — where I usually sit to check people in — rainbow COVID-era signs advise visitors to “social distance” and “keep your mask on, periodt.” And on the wall behind the office chair, sparkling red, orange, green, blue, pink and yellow letters warmly greet guests: “Welcome to the Office of LGBTQ Resources.” Welcome home.
Colorful containers of hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and alcohol wipes ensure visitors stay clean during the entirety of their stay. Purple, orange, green, red and blue hula hoops hang on the wall-mounted metal racks, which are meant for items like coats and jackets. Nobody wonders why the hula hoops have been placed there, though. They just fit: colors on colors.
Past the front desk, a white stand bears a large glass bowl, which holds packets of regular condoms, internal condoms, dental dams and lubricant, aiming to promote safe sexual practices. Two smaller bowls contain pastel orange, black, green, pink and rainbow pronoun buttons and stickers. First-time guests usually grab a pronoun button and smile because they’ve never seen one before.
“These are super cool!” they exclaim.
Graduates and undergraduates make the lounge their own living room. Metal chairs and circular desks line the blue brick walls on the left side. Pink and white pillows for visitors to use for their comfort are hung on the walls. Turquoise and maroon sofas allow for cozy reading and/or socializing. Another COVID-era rainbow sign respectfully encourages guests to “get comfy” but “not close.” The lounge flaunts artwork with swirly, checkered and striped designs, with pieces of clothing wrapped around the paintings. A purple, green and white zigzag piece — covered by a rainbow jean jacket — stands out among the artwork. I’m drawn to the masterpieces surrounding me whenever I rest on the turquoise sofa.
To the left of this art gallery, there are framed “I am” statements — including “I am a drag queen and not trans” and “I am straight and supportive” — from one of Yale’s LGBTQ Pride weeks. The walls of the lounge also showcase the history of lesbian and gay student organizations at Yale from 1969 to 1986. Important dates include the first meeting of the first gay student organization at Yale called the Homosexuality Discussion Group in 1969, the first gay-related Yale course called “Homosexuality in Contemporary America” being offered in 1973 and the first National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in 1979. And I quietly giggle as I read about how the Yalesbians group staged make-out sessions in front of Cross Campus Library in 1982. This research was conducted by Anna Wipfler ’09 for a senior project in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Through the exit door of the lounge, all-gender restrooms welcome all individuals. Facing these lavatories is the Qloset: Trans@Yale’s communal clothing swap, laden with clothes yearning to be tried on and cherished by trans, genderqueer and gender nonconforming people. When visualizing the many outfits that can be created with the vast array of clothes, I smile. Mesmerized. Inside the Qloset, on the leftmost side, there are purple, blue and black dress shirts with striped and plain designs, as well as gray, beige, and navy blue blazers. Red, green, gray and white checkered ties share hangers with the dress shirts. Beneath this formal attire, green, maroon and beige coats and puffer jackets stand on guard for the winter season. On the right side of the Qloset, purple, hot pink, black, white, gold and pastel orange prom dresses of short and long lengths — most of which are made using linen and cotton fabrics — are ready to ensure someone serves looks. In the center shelves, there are black trousers, floral shorts, blue jeans, purple khakis, white booty shorts and other garments to cover one’s lower half. There are also open-toe beige 4-inch heels, black crocs, black laced dress shoes, brown winter boots and 3-inch scarlet heels. On the top center shelf, royal blue, floral, red and fuschia sports bras and tank tops watch everyone and everything beneath, and a sparkly thulian pink hand purse blinds those who glance at it. And of course, a mirror dangles on each of the two Qloset doors to help people decide which articles of clothing make them look most fabulous.
The lounge, though, can make people sleepy due to its dimmer lighting, so students usually congregate at the cafe. Rectangular tables are arranged so that just the corners touch one another, creating an empty square in the middle, adhering to social distancing.
A variety of activities are held in the café. LGBTQ Peer Liaisons hold events for their first-year PLees, such as painting, movie showings and mixers for students with intersectional identities. When I see fellow first years arrive at the office, I’m pleased to show them around. And office staff put on activities such as pumpkin carving, Among Us and Jackbox game nights, queer Kahoot trivia, study sessions and song association battles. Students do everything from laughing to arguing, especially during rounds of Among Us. Although the office is not as packed as it used to be, queer students, office staff and allies still find ways to make the space feel homey.
In the cafe, there’s an exhibit containing work by trans and nonbinary artists. A self-portrait by artist Noah Jenkins bears the quote “I will love myself unapologetically.” Another piece of art, by Ethan X. Parker and BreakOUT!, portrays a Black woman holding a megaphone, yelling “Black Trans Lives Matter.” And an image exclaims “Free Ky,” calling attention to Ky Peterson, a young Black trans man from Georgia who was arrested for a self-defensive act during a transphobic sexual assault. History, art and activism line the walls of the Office of LGBTQ Resources.
Although people gather at the office for an assortment of reasons — from studying independently and indulging in the tranquil vibes of the space to socializing and building new friendships — they know that they feel welcomed here. We LGBTQ students have varying levels of comfort with our sexualities, whether we’re still discovering or completely out with our rainbow selves. But no matter how open queer students are in the outside world, we can be our most authentic selves at the office. And when I clock out of my shift here, I can usually see people smiling on their way out, wearing a new pronoun button or sticker on their chest.
John Nguyen | firstname.lastname@example.org