Em VanderLinden ‘13
I came to Princeton from a Catholic school in Iowa. Princeton was both a wonderful and terrifying place. I learned new words, identities, communities that I previously was not exposed to. I learned that my gender was my own to celebrate and express how I saw fit, even if that expression didn’t fit in with Princeton’s straight laced exterior. I found a queer family at the LGBT Center.
I’m currently working at Center on Halsted, a LGBTQ center in Chicago. Through my current work, I have even more appreciation for the work Debbie and Andy do, and the space they maintain. The Center, and my queer family, helped me to survive Princeton, with definite moments of thriving thrown in there. I led a gender neutral housing campaign through Princeton Equality Project and tasted the victory of student organizing. I attended conferences and learned from my peers during on-campus events. Princeton gave me a place to learn about myself, and to get the type of anger that motivates change. If any queerlings have any questions about moving through a heterosexist patriarchical world based in consumerism and colonialism, don’t be a stranger: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Cutright '08
I came to college ‘gay’ without ever really considering Princeton’s LGBT community or the place I would eventually come to inhabit within or outside its bounds. The name and academic reputation of Princeton had such gravitas that in my mind there was no other choice to be made. All other universities seemed to be poor approximations of the Princetonian Form, to echo Plato, on which all other institutions of higher learning were modeled. Looking back, I believe the reason I never thought to stop and think my eventual relation to the LGBT community at my college of choice was that I was always already gay before coming to college, and there was nothing, barring the freedom from any threat or reality of violence, that I needed outside of myself to live my homosexuality, precisely because I was always already homosexual. For how can one refuse or be stopped from living what one always already is if, from the moment it can be said that one comes into existence as a subject, one is always already that thing?
I arrived on campus and suddenly I had to think. In a moment, I was always already part of the ‘LGBT community’ I discovered to be so well organized around Debbie Bazarsky and The LGBT Center as well as the Pride Alliance. There were so many events, activities, lectures, and ways to get involved, and I was very pleased to be part of such a vibrant community. Not only was I of the community as an out ‘gay’ man but I was also at one with the community and its seemingly common identity. I became an LGBT peer educator in order to offer myself as a resource to help other undergraduates experience this very being-at-one.
Through my studies, however, I have come to realize the problematic nature of the politics of identity that the ideas of an ‘LGBT community’ and a ‘being-at-one’ with such a community imply. I am now very skeptical of translating my homosexual experience into some kind of essence or ‘gay soul’ to reference the title of a popular book on ‘gay’ spirituality. And while some might construe this as a critique or even a disavowal of Princeton’s LGBT community on my part, I think that the most wonderful thing about what Princeton has to offer LGBT students is many resources, academic and otherwise, that encourage one to think one’s relation to one’s ‘sexuality.’ Is it something one has? Is it something one does? Or is it the very something that one is? I have my own answer, and Princeton’s LGBT community and resources have certainly played a large part in helping me formulate it.
Clair Woo '06
I am a chemical engineering major from Hong Kong. Before I came to Princeton, I did not know any LBGT people. I did not get to know the LGBT community until I joined the Pride Alliance half way through my freshman year. The Pride Alliance not only encourages LGBT students to gather, share, and organize, but also enables us to show queer movies, to discuss LGBT issues, and to arrange other social events for the LGBT community. It represents a voice that speaks out for LGBT students, a voice that speaks to eradicate homophobia and heterosexism, both of which exist on campus. For example, last year two officers and I worked on a proposal to include gender identity and expression in the university’s non-discrimination policy.
The Pride Alliance is trying to organize more regular events this year, and we have extended Pride Week into a whole month and are calling it Gaypril. Also, there has been a definite increase in the number of attendees to our events. So I am enthusiastic about the coming semester. Moreover, I am excited about the new LGBT center, which will broaden our options in organizing events and make the community more visible.
Jessie Weber '05
Coming to Princeton from Brooklyn, NY, I wasn’t sure if the city's open environment with which I had grown up would remain a reality on a campus with a conservative reputation. Thanks to the LGBT Peer Education program, I didn’t have to look too far to find other LGBT students here—they came right to my residential college and talked about their experiences both at home and at Princeton. Although I talked to the students in the program after it was over, it took me a whole semester before I got back in touch with any LGBT community on campus. It was through the prodding of a girl in my a cappella group that I went to my first Pride Alliance sponsored program on campus, "Homophobia on the Street," a panel of students who shared their experiences of both acceptance and intolerance at the eating clubs on the Street. I realized that I needed to get involved in changing the campus environment and creating a more vibrant and visible LGBT community.
After talking to Debbie Bazarsky, The LGBT Center Director, and one of the Pride Alliance co-presidents that night, I became a Pride Alliance officer and helped organize an awareness campaign. We put up signs all over campus questioning the use of the phrase "that's so gay" and posing questions that challenged heterosexist beliefs.
I continued to work with the Pride Alliance, becoming vice-president my sophomore year and co-president my junior year. I was also involved in the formation of the Queer Radicals, a group of incredibly passionate students who serve as the activist arm of the LGBT community on campus. With some members of the Queer Radicals, I began to work on getting the rights of transgender and genderqueer students protected at Princeton though the inclusion of gender identity and expression in our equal opportunity statement—a goal that we are still working towards.
Although it would have been great to learn more about LGBT issues in my classes and academic work as a Politics major, my primary education on the topic has come from the excellent programming sponsored by The LGBT Center. I was inspired by James Dale’s talk about his lawsuit against the Boy Scouts, Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein's lectures about transgender issues, and the opportunity to talk to the director of Trembling before G-d about the experiences of gay orthodox Jews. I was also lucky enough to be able to attend the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference in Portland, Oregon, thanks to a grant from the Fund for Reunion (Princeton's "There is still work to be done in increasing the visibility of the LGBT community and in making sure that the rights of all students are protected, regardless of gender identity and expression, but in general, Princeton is a good place to be an LGBT student."LGBT alumni group), where I learned about current political struggles in the LGBT movement and strategies for effective activism.
The LGBT community on campus has really been growing stronger and more vibrant over the past four years I’ve been at Princeton. The Pride Alliance Ice Cream Social during Freshman Orientation brought in over 200 people (and demanded several ice cream runs), more than 700 “Gay? Fine by Me” t-shirts have been given away in less than 2 hours, and Admissions officers have begun participating in LGBT college fairs (one of which I got to attend). There is still work to be done in increasing the visibility of the LGBT community and in making sure that the rights of all students are protected, regardless of gender identity and expression, but in general, Princeton is a good place to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender student.