Voices

Read the latest voices from our faculty, students, and staff about LGBTQ+ life at Brandeis.

Decorative lavender graphicPurple Pride: Honoring LGBTQ+ Spirit

When seamster Gilbert Baker designed the now-iconic rainbow pride flag in 1978, he intended each color to represent a human characteristic that binds us together, regardless of our identities, to foster a sense of community. In the rainbow-filled GSC, we rely on our peer mentors, the Pride Reps, to be community-builders and cultivate pride among the student body. Our Pride Reps draw inspiration from the pride flag itself: the ‘21-22 cohort of Pride Reps call themselves the Purple Cohort after the purple stripe that Baker intended to represent “spirit.”

The color purple has a long history of affiliation with LGBTQ+ themes, a history influenced by poets like Sappho and Oscar Wilde who wrote of the color in LGBTQ+ contexts. It was in the mid-20th century when this well-intentioned symbolism took a sour turn: the color got deployed as a reference to what was characterized as the threat of a growing queer culture. For example, having a “lavender streak” became a disparaging descriptor for a man with stereotypically effeminate mannerisms. Decades later, second-wave feminist Betty Friedan coined the term “lavender herring” (which later became “Lavender Menace”) to describe lesbian feminists who she believed threatened the feminist movement; Friedan accused lesbian feminists of diverting attention away from the movement’s ultimate goal of equality for women. However, similar to the way the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed the slur “queer,” our LGBTQ+ ancestors responded to these denouncements by embracing the color lavender as a symbol of pride and started wearing it intentionally at protests and rallies.

Given the power with which the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed a color that has historically been weaponized against us, it is no surprise that Baker chose this color to represent LGBTQ+ spirit. The queer history of the color purple embodies all that queer spirit is: pride and celebration amid activism and resistance. We thank our Purple Cohort Pride Reps for being leaders and activists themselves and for the vibrancy and passion that they bring to the GSC. 

Visit the Pride Reps during drop-in hours, which are Monday-Friday from 3-5pm at the GSC in Usdan.

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The Brandeis Hoot logo

September 19, 2022

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.”

Alexander poses in his fencing uniform.

Photo Credit: Mike Lovett

August 29, 2022

"Being a senior pride rep within the Gender and Sexuality Center has been the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I am a trained peer educator and mentor. I host drop-in hours to create space for folks who are queer, questioning, women, and allies. 

The Gender and Sexuality Center is truly a wonderful office that lets the Brandeis community make a space there for whatever they need. It’s an empowering, safe space for everyone."

The Brandeis Hoot logo

August 19, 2022

On June 15, in the middle of Pride Month 2022, the university’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) Director Julián Cancino and University Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lee Bitsóí sent an email to the Brandeis community reaffirming Brandeis’ commitment to supporting LGBTQ students. In the email, the administrators acknowledge that the university has “come a long way in embracing the LGBTQ community.”

Students hold candles at the Take Back the Night event

Photo Credit: Heather Schiller

April 12, 2022

[PARC organizer Alison Hagani ‘22] said providing a space that focuses specifically on action, as well as one for reflection and sharing, is something that Brandeis’ Take Back the Night organizers have focused on in recent years, “Many individuals, especially those impacted by sexual violence, project their experiences into action; their survivorship is often inextricably linked to a desire to use their own insights as a call to action.”

The Brandeis Hoot logo

April 8, 2022

I think it’s crucial that events that center queerness at the intersection of cultural identity are at the forefront of our campus’ queer community. This particular event focused on ball culture, an integral union of Black and Brown queer bodies to come together and celebrate life and joy,” [Nicholas] Ong emphasized. “When our campus has spaces and events centering the lives of our Black and Brown siblings, the overall energy is welcoming and empowering for the otherwise marginalized group of individuals in the Queer community.

The Justice logo

April 5, 2022

The panelists emphasized how many LGBTQIA+ individuals experience difficulty finding a group they identify with, and some of these individuals lose friends or family due to their orientation. Finding a group where they can be themselves, and feel safe doing so, is all the more important to them and it shouldn't be a rarity to find that support in a sports team.

Brandeis Athletics logo

April 5, 2022

The panelists discussed how integral sports has been in shaping their identities from a young age. Even as they found other parts of their life in turmoil, sports was a constant. "Fencing is my home," Wicken told the group. "Sports has been the most constant thing in my life. Whenever I struggled, sports was a place that I found peace."

Another key component that all the panelists found at their respective institutions was support from those around them, especially when they were unsure what to expect. Fahey related the story of the pressure she felt to perform well for her team after scoring at her conference meet as a sophomore. In the midst of coming out, Fahey approached her coach. As she recalled, he told her, "We recruited you for the person that you are, not the times that you swim. I don't know much about this, but I'll learn."

Pauli Murray

Photo Credit: Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections

April 4, 2022

“Over half a century ago, Pauli Murray created the groundbreaking legal strategy of some of the most important victories of our time,” says Julián Cancino, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at Brandeis. The film outlines Murray’s role as a legal trailblazer whose ideas influenced Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights arguments. “As an advocate for the inclusion of ‘sex’ in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Murray set the intellectual foundation for ‘on the basis of sex’ arguments. These arguments ultimately secured equal protections for women in the 1970s and, in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2020, ensured that LGBTQ+ people can get a job and work free from discrimination and harassment.” Ginsburg was quoted as saying, “Pauli was saying things far earlier than people were ready to accept.”

Wellness Day 2021

Photo Credit: Thomas Tiancheng Zheng

March 29, 2022

From the perspective of the Student Union President who spends a lot of time working behind the scenes with the administration, Sourirajan believes that university officials do care a lot about the well-being of students and are very cognizant of their needs. She explained that the administration definitely has good intentions, but not all students are able to see that since it mostly occurs behind closed doors.

The Brandeis Hoot logo

March 25, 2022

The Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) will be having an Open Mic Night at the Stein. The event is being co-hosted by GSC, Triskelion, the Intercultural Center (ICC), Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) and the Student Sexuality Information Service (SSIS). The event intends to highlight queer trans and or BIPOC artists.

The Brandeis Hoot logo

March 4, 2022

Since its beginning, the Brandeis Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) has provided a comforting space for students—regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation—to feel as though Brandeis is their home. Julián Cancino, inaugural director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, wrote in an email to The Brandeis Hoot that, “the Gender and Sexuality Center believes that who you love or who you are should not be a barrier to education and, so, we strive to attract and retain LGBTQ students. The Gender and Sexuality Center aims to expand resources and give students the support they need to thrive.” One way that the GSC has expanded said resources and support for students is through the creation of the Pride Reps program.

The GSC partnered with BLSO to create an event held in honor of TDOR and Day of the Dead.

Photo Credit: Cayenn Landau

December 7, 2021

Austin-Spooner, a first-year student at Boston University, is the co-chair of BAGLY’s Youth Leadership Committee, and was involved in the “Yes on 3” campaign, a successful 2018 ballot initiatve to uphold a Massachusetts law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public places. “I met other trans people for the first time, I met trans adults for the first time, being happy and joyful together, and that was new ... it made me feel really loved and it gave this purpose to me,” said Austin-Spooner about the campaign.

Emma Forster ’22, Charlene Duong ’23 and Ashley Young ’22 at Kindness Day

Photo Credit: Emma Forster

November 18, 2021

“Our goal was to focus specifically on uniting the Brandeis community. We felt that it was an especially important time to celebrate togetherness after two semesters of challenging online semesters,” said Ashley Young ’22. “We heard from many students that they are struggling to balance the challenges that come with the readjustment into a fully in-person school year. It was important to us to utilize this event- one of the first fully in-person campus-wide events- to give everyone an opportunity to pause and celebrate being back together.“

Brandeis Athletics logo

September 9, 2021

Brandeis University is committed to providing its students, staff and faculty with an environment conducive to learning, and working, and where all people are treated with respect and dignity. The Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (“Brandeis Athletics”) shares this commitment, and treats these obligations, along with safety and equitable treatment, as core to its mission…

Brandeis Athletics maintains the following policies to facilitate and encourage the participation of people of all genders, including transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, and other gender-nonconforming students, staff, faculty, and visitors. These policies, developed in conjunction with the Office of Equal Opportunity, Gender and Sexuality Center, and General Counsel cover: participation in club sports, intramural sports and intercollegiate athletics; participation in physical education offerings; and gender access and accommodation for all people who attend and participate in athletic activities that take place at Brandeis.

A student speaks at a 2018 rally outside the Rose Art Museum

Photo Credit: Mike Lovett

July 29, 2021

When the pandemic pulled so many students away from Brandeis last year,, assistant professor of sociology Gowri Vijayakumar retooled her annual "Social Movements" class to reconnect them to the geography of campus through its history of protest.

The course combines research into the histories and sociology of social movements with activist interviews. This year, students examined how and where activism has left a mark on campus.

Julián Cancino

Photo Credit: Rachel Carbary

June 21, 2021

"As the inaugural director, establishing our office during a global pandemic has been challenging but not impossible. I’m very grateful to the many colleagues who have reached out to connect with our office, those who supported our online learning initiative and shared their knowledge with us, and, of course, the colleagues and students who have been doing this work for many years.

As the primary point of contact for Brandeis' efforts to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution for women and LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff, I have a special responsibility to advance policy development, community building, and institutional intervention as necessary."

Lily Solochek '11

Photo Credit: Lanni Solochek

June 1, 2021

It’s really scary right now. We need two major shifts in our country: one is legislation that protects trans people. In the future, it would be great if we didn’t need laws for marginalized people, but increased understanding that violence against us is hate crimes. The second thing is, we need a shift in our culture. It’s very hard to live life when your rights are constantly up for debate. Some of that culture shift comes from trans people like myself, but it must also come from people in community leadership, people committed to making our communities safer for those who have less societal power. We need white queer people to stand up and to understand that while our queerness puts us in a marginalized group, our whiteness gives us privilege. And we need our cisgender allies to take really seriously their support for us.

Pride Reps pose outside Usdan Student Center

Photo Credit: Noah Zeitlin

October 26, 2021

Giffin, a GSC Pride Rep, spoke about how they and the other Pride Reps spend time studying and learning about different topics surrounding queerness, such as “sex and dating, coming out, intersectionality, and working together to figure out how to use this information to positively impact the queer community at Brandeis and beyond.” They further expressed the role of the GSC on campus, commenting that “this really attests to the commitment and care that the GSC puts into the students in our community ... I’m so proud and grateful to be a part of this mission.”

The Center works with campus partners, stating that they engage in “direct advocacy to promote inclusive policies at the institutional level,” and holds training and educational sessions for faculty and staff to build inclusive classrooms and campus communities.

The Hoot logo

October 22, 2021

“It’s almost like a push for a culture shift towards greater inclusivity in the community in general. People are more understanding of differences people have and … by bringing this to people’s eyes, in some way, you’re exposing them to this environment. It’s this idea of educating people who might not have this education available to them—to see this individuality and expression is what makes us unique and inspires progress,” said Zolotov. He’s hoping that this will set a precedent of inclusivity in dining and inspire similar events in the future.

Jac Guerra '22

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jac Guerra

October 12, 2021

“While each college or university retains institutional autonomy in pursuing the waiver process, Brandeis Athletics is committed to assisting student-athletes considering gender transition,” the policy states.

Decorated paper lanterns honor Transgender Day of Remembrance

Photo Credit: Allie Morse

October 20, 2022

"On TDoR, we light a candle in honor of friends, loved ones, and community members whose lives we lost to acts of violence," [Julián] Cancino said. "Together we take a moment to mourn, heal, and imagine a new world. We ponder the imperative of gender justice. We remember that, as the Torah insists, 'Justice, Justice you shall pursue.' Here at Brandeis, the GSC is a resource for those who pursue justice and commit to making the world a more just and inclusive place for all."

Dominique Jackson

Photo Credit: Noah Zeitlin

September 15, 2020

Throughout the conversation, Jackson emphasized visibility. “We can’t hide,” she said. And because of that, the community should let each other know of their existence, to feel supported in reconciling the conflicts between the world and their identities, and to encourage each other to break through the ceiling. Reminiscing, Jackson shared with her audience the lesson she learned fighting against societal constraints and stressed that, “you have to believe in yourself. People are afraid of you because your truth attacks their beliefs.”

The Hoot logo

August 28, 2020

“I aim to provide visionary leadership toward creating a comprehensive, vibrant GSC that partners [with other organizations] across the campus and community to support, advocate for, and educate on matters related to gender and LGBTQ+ identities,” Cancino told The Hoot. “I also have a special responsibility of creating a welcoming environment that facilitates LGBTQ+ students’ advancement, growth, and development through advocacy, policy development, and appropriate institutional intervention when necessary.”

Jason Frank '22

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jason Frank

August 14, 2020

Jason Frank ’22 [is] an anthropology major and queer and sexuality studies minor from Peterborough, New Hampshire. A Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice Fellow, he is authoring the study, “Fairies and Funnies: Gay Men in Standup Comedy.”

Queer Life at Brandeis Podcast cover

June 17, 2020

"It’s too easy for queer history to be overlooked. Over the years, WGS has done a lot to highlight women’s history at Brandeis. As the program - now a department - evolved to include sexuality in its name, we need to hear the stories of queer students, staff and faculty on campus," [professor Wendy] Cadge said.

Five different Brandeis alums

June 5, 2020

Several alumni whose personal and professional efforts have made a difference in the LGBTQ community were invited by the Brandeis Alumni Association to reflect on how the concept of “repairing the world” has inspired their lives and vocations.

Jaila Allen '21

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jaila Allen

November 1, 2019

"I felt it was important for me to see how my area of study is implemented in another country," Allen, a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double-major, told BrandeisNOW.

"Denmark has a reputation of being a welfare state, with resources such as "free" access to hospitals, paid extended maternity leave and education," Allen said. "I wanted to see if this country lived up to its reputation. Also, with Copenhagen being known as one of the most progressive cities in the world, I wanted to experience the views of queer people and people of color first-hand."

Pauli Murray

Photo Credit: Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections

February 26, 2018

“Pauli wanted to come to Brandeis because of what it was – because of the tradition about how it was founded,” added Antler. “She had a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and great respect for President Morris Abrams.  She fit in very well with the beginnings of American Studies. I think Larry Fuchs understood that her real-world activism and her role in the civil rights movement and feminism would be instructive for students. When she came, she was encouraged to innovate.”

Rainbow-colored world map

Photo Credit: Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections

October 11, 2013

Emma Lieberman, Lily Siegal, AB Troen, and Robyn Lederer, all from the Class of 2014, were among the seniors who spoke to an audience of approximately 25 students and staff. Their destinations -- to England, Israel, Kenya and Peru, respectively -- were as different as the queer experiences they had there, which ranged from open hostility to almost-friendliness.