On Thursday, Sept. 15 the Brandeis Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) hosted its annual Open House event, this year titled “Out at the Fair.” Over 50 students gathered inside the GSC Office in Usdan and outside on the grass to experience the county fair-themed event by eating snacks, petting service animals and learning about the queer resources and student groups on campus.
One Pride Rep, Alexander Wicken ’23 spoke to The Brandeis Hoot about the event, stating that “every year the GSC does an open house, I think this year’s may be the biggest thing we’ve done,” while motioning to the enclosures outside Usdan holding baby goats, a pig, chicks, ducks and rabbits. “Last year I don’t think it necessarily had a theme, but I think the theme has been successful so far,” explained Wicken. GSC Director Julián Cancino and Program Administrator Eli Sobel thought up the theme and organized the event with the goal of healing in mind. When explaining the background of the event to The Hoot, Cancino wrote, “Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag for the 1978 San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Celebration. Each color of the Pride Flag has a meaning. At the beginning of each year, each GSC Pride Reps cohort selects a color that best represents them. This year’s GSC Pride Reps cohort selected the color orange, which means healing.”
Healing through knowledge, community and engaging with nature and each other was the goal of the event alongside being an introduction to the campus queer resources and the GSC in particular. “We believe that engagement with nature, however small, is a powerful way to heal,” wrote Cancino, and the number of students who attended the event proved that it was a powerful act of joy for Brandeis University. “We really want to be able to reach the campus community, and we wanted to have an experience that everyone could enjoy.” The event, as well as the Gender and Sexuality Center as a whole, is not just a space for LGBTQ individuals but for everyone to feel safe and supported at Brandeis.
The event had representatives from various on-campus resources, including LGBTQ and Women’s groups, tabling inside the GSC Office. Groups represented were the Peer Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC), Student Sexuality Information Services (SSIS), Women of Color Alliance (WOCA), Queer Jews at Brandeis (QJAB), the Queer Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC), Triskelion, Period Activists at ’Deis (PAD) and a Queer Professionals group. The Hoot spoke with the President of Queer Jews at Brandeis on the importance of groups such as QJAB focusing on the intersection of unique marginalized identities. President of QJAB Esme Kamlet ’25 explained that “[b]eing queer and Jewish is sometimes something that isn’t very talked about, especially when you become more religious or conservative with your views … [QJAB] is a place for everyone who has that type of identity to see where it intersects and talk about it as a community.” At the event, QJAB was discussing and advertising their upcoming event on Sept. 18 where they will be building community and playing a “Jewish version of Cards Against Humanity,” according to Kamlet.
Alongside club tabling, the GSC Office held various queer identity flag pins, t-shirts, snacks and drinks for students to take, as well as Pride Rep-run tours of the office every half hour. During the tour, visitors were able to learn about the variety of resources that the GSC has, including a free gender-affirming closet and onsite changing room, pamphlets on LGBTQ issues, queer, women and POC-authored books and many comfortable places to hang out and chat. Wicken helped facilitate some of the tours, and called the GSC “a space for people to find community” and “a great place for people to take space as they need it.” With comfortable seating, calming lighting and welcoming staff, the GSC is a unique space on campus for all students, including Kristianna Lapierre ’24, a new Pride Rep at the GSC. Lapierre told The Hoot that “I think [in] my time at Brandeis I’ve found a queer community and I wanted to work at the GSC to build that community. There’s definitely a community on campus, I just think that people need to learn about it which is why this [open house] is so awesome.”
A student in an inflatable cow costume came outside halfway through the event to announce to the crowd of people surrounding the farm animals that a costume contest would begin shortly. The costume contest was to emphasize inclusivity and gender affirmation through costuming, with the theme “Queer County Fair.” The information on the costume contest wrote to students that they should “bring [their] best Miss County Fair Queer Pageant crown and sash, Wild West cowboi boots, quilt-block denim overalls, or cotton candy inspired haute couture for the ultimate show stopper!”
Brandeis University’s Vice President of Diversity Equity and Inclusion Lee Bitsoí stopped by the event to enjoy the community experience, and chatted with The Hoot shortly about supporting LGBTQ communities on campus. Bitsoí explained that Brandeis’ welcoming and accepting nature is part of the reason he came to work at the university but “of course, we could do more for all of our groups that come from underserved groups and marginalized communities.” Bitsoí remarked, “I think that just having a queer presence on campus indicates that the institution is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and if I had my wishlist, I’d ask for a million dollars so we could invest in and really support our student programming in these areas.”
Even without such resources, Brandeis’ GSC and queer community is still thriving, with numerous events coming up throughout the academic year. “We’re having a combination of social events and academic programming,” Cancino explained to The Hoot. “We are bringing back the Winter Reception where we bring together students, faculty and staff, including graduate students … we have an event that’s hosted by Triskelion—the oldest LGBTQ group on campus—Queer Trans People of Color Coalition and Queer Jews at Brandeis, and it’s the Inviting In Ball which is in honor of Black History Month and the intersection between racial identity and sexuality.” Wicken elaborated on the meaning of the Inviting In event as an intersectional celebration of ballroom culture. The event “celebrate[s] ballroom culture and is intentionally in February, Black History Month, to honor that ballroom culture is originally part of Black culture.” Last April, the GSC hosted their first Inviting In ball, featuring a performance by Providence, Rhode Island-based drag artist, Nerukessa. When discussing the future ball with Wicken, he mentioned the opportunity for Brandeis drag artists to perform, “encouraging people who do drag on campus to have space and opportunity to perform if they would like to,” is very important for an event such as Inviting In and for cultivating queer community and art at Brandeis.
Cancino elaborated further on the “academic programming” that the GSC will be working on, explaining that it involves “inviting faculty to talk about their research through a gender or sexuality lens … Next week we have an event with Professor Mayorga [SOC] where she’s talking about her research and her latest publication on race in white neighborhoods. She’s looking at the research through what it means to be a woman researcher, a woman academic, doing racial justice work.”
Overall, the GSC Open House brought many students with many unique identities to enjoy the programming of the afternoon. Cancino was enthusiastic about the event’s outcome and what it means for future GSC events. “I think what we see here is what we want to see every day, and so how do we make that happen?” Cancino remarked. “What I am seeing here is connection, visibility and normalizing being with differences. You see here people with multiple identities and it’s not a debate, it’s not a teaching, it’s honestly just spending quality time together and I’d like to see more of that.”