Yale GALA, Yale LGBTQ+ Alumni Association

Yale’s LGBTQ+ alumni association is gearing up for the holiday season as well as surveying its members to set an agenda for the next few years. 

In December, Yale GALA — the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Assocation — will host two events: a book-club meeting and an intercollegiate holiday party. In addition, they are promoting a film festival hosted by Yale in Hollywood, another alumni organization for students and alumni in or interested in entertainment.

“The LGBTQ+ community, we live within a larger society that is not always welcoming so the idea of being able to share experiences with kindred spirits is a very important goal,” said Bob Barnett DRA ’89, the organization’s secretary and newsletter editor.

Starting on the very first day of the month, the Yale in Hollywood Fest is a three-day online film festival that will showcase features and shorts that include one or more Yale-affiliated people in their production. The festival will be streamed worldwide. The Yale GALA Book Club Reading is yet another online event and is one that is hosted on the third Thursday of every month. 

This time, members are reading Michael Ausiello’s memoir “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words,” the heartbreaking but humorous story of his relationship with his boyfriend, who was later fatally diagnosed with cancer. 

Finally, there is The Holidays Party in NYC on Dec. 28 — co-hosted with LGBTQ+ organizations from Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, UPenn, Harvard and Cornell — which is open to LGBTQ+ students, staff and alumni from any university.

According to co-president of Yale GALA Mickey Dobbs ’92, LGBTQ+ alumni get-togethers were the organization’s original focus in the early 1980s. In later decades, when students became more vocal about LGBTQ+ issues on campus, the alumni wanted to participate, and Yale GALA’s connection to campus increased. Since then the goal has been to not only serve LGBTQ+ alumni but also work with students on campus issues.

In addition to hosting social events, Yale GALA sponsors two prizes each year. The first one, called the GALA Senior Essay Prize, is awarded for a senior project related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies in conjunction with the LGBT Studies program at Yale. 

Recently, the association started awarding the Camila María Concepción ’14 Yale GALA Prize to any student who made significant contributions to the trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming communities in their undergraduate years. It is awarded in memory of Camila María Concepción, a trans writer and activist who not only worked for the GALA in her time at Yale but also later continued to promote trans visibility in the media.

Over the years, the organization has become more inclusive, changing its name from Yale Gay and Lesbian Alumni to Yale GALA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association and actively trying to encourage more people of colour and more women to take part in its programming. In addition, it has become more and more involved with LGBTQ+ organizations at other universities.

“Campus has changed a lot since we started,” Barnett said. “We went from a Yale where being gay was inconceivable. It was seen as a disease and a crime. Older alumni bring that awareness versus the younger generation who are more politically astute but believe that we own our rights and anything that compromises that is unacceptable.”

This diversity means that Yale GALA is trying to meet the desires of people with very different experiences. Thus, the surveys and the listening sessions are a way to determine what the alumni would actually like to see the organization doing — what kinds of events and activities would make them feel most engaged with the community. 

GALA is also trying to include graduating students in these programs, notably there is a brainstorming workshop on Dec. 11 for incoming alumni to share their ideas.

These programs are conducted in conjunction with Innerlytics, a consulting firm that uses data analysis to understand bias and to then use that information to help organizations become more equitable. It was founded by Yale alum Jordon Rose, who graduated just this year from Yale School of Management, and now volunteers for the GALA.

The information gathered will then be used to plan for the future.

“It will directly shape the next five years of the organization,” Rose said. “The surveys are to see who’s out there. What do you want? What are your needs? Do you want more big events with a lot of people or more intimate ones? These are the questions that the surveys are asking. The 15-minute listening sessions are a follow-up. On a surface level, they are moments for people to give suggestions and to vent. If you look a little deeper, the listening sessions are an avenue to understand how disenfranchised community members can be more active.”

Rose told the News that although Yale GALA has significantly changed over the years, it still consists of a disproportionately large number of people who are white and male. So, Rose said, one aim of the listening sessions is to find a way to invite more people of color, more women, more gender-diverse people to volunteer and become active in the organization.

Dobbs mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic as a turning point since it meant that they had to move from in-person to online events for a while, which meant that more people could join from all over the world. Now, as they return to hosting in-person events, they are trying to figure out how they can keep reaching people from different locations.

While the surveys and listening sessions are the biggest thing they are doing right now, there is one event planned for April next year: the student-alumni dinner, organized jointly with the Office of LGBTQ+ Resources on Yale campus. 

The event was once annual, according to Dobbs, but was discontinued due to a lack of alumni attendance. The association is trying to restart the tradition in 2023 and hopes that the surveys will help them find a way to improve attendance.

The Yale GALA Book Club Reading began mid-2020 and became a regular event at the start of 2021.

Correction, Dec. 4: This story was updated to reflect the correct host of the film festival.