When the first song at Cornell’s inaugural Pride Prom came on, students did not just walk to the dance floor. They ran.
“That’s when I knew all the planning was worth it,” said Logan Gibbs-Porter ’24, incoming co-president of Haven, Cornell’s LGBTQ+ student union and host of the event. “It was such a wholesome event, focused on making people feel seen and cared for and that there was a place for them to exist. And being able to laugh and dance with strangers after the past couple of years was therapeutic.”
The prom, attended by more than 175 students on May 12 in Willard Straight Hall, also allowed the LGBTQ+ community to reclaim a milestone they may have missed.
“A lot of people missed out on meaningful things due to the pandemic: graduations, birthday parties, proms,” Gibbs-Porter said. “Others in the community may not have felt included in their proms at home. As we were planning and hearing that from people, it hit me that this was a much-needed opportunity for people to try again, or to come out to themselves by themselves. They could finally do it their way.”
The fairy tale theme fit with conversations Haven has been leading since March, when Queer Month’s theme was “rewriting the narrative,” as well as with Haven’s overall focus of the year – intersectionality. “We’ve wanted to focus on individual storytelling, the untold stories,” said Gibbs-Porter. “Live your own experience as you see fit.”
Haven serves as an umbrella organization and resource to a number of undergraduate groups – currently 11 – involved in supporting LGBTQ+ students on campus. Run by a small student executive board of six to eight officers, it is guided by a mission to support the diverse array of sexual and gender identities and expressions on campus and to promote inclusivity and understanding. They work closely with the LGBT Resource Center to plan educational and social programming and help student groups secure funding and resources, as well as advocate for the LGBTQ+ community at the student assembly and with administration.
The Pride Prom capped a year of markedly successful events for Haven, said Crissi Dalfonzo, assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center and co-adviser for Haven. “Haven has gotten more turnout at their events than I’ve ever seen,” she said. “We’re seeing a real need in our students for community spaces, social spaces where they can exist as LGBTQ+ people. Haven’s events are planned for students by students, and that really makes a difference.”
Last fall, a drag show, co-hosted with the Cornell University Planning Board and the LGBT Resource Center, drew 300 students. During the pandemic, when some LGBTQ+ students had to return home to non-accepting environments, Haven hosted virtual events to provide a safe space.
“Some of those events were the only spaces where students could truly be themselves,” Dalfonzo said. “Having that lifeline, that connection back to campus through the pandemic was hugely important.”
“At our core, we want to provide a space for LGBTQ+ students to feel safe, to connect with others in the community, and feel like they can be themselves,” said Haven co-president Vicky Jiang ’24.
Jiang and Gibbs-Porter, both biological sciences majors, said community is exactly what Haven has provided for them, especially after coming to Cornell during the pandemic. “We missed out on that first year where a lot of people make those social connections,” Gibbs-Porter said. “Finding Haven was really meaningful because I was looking for that sense of community. Now I hear all the time how Haven has changed people’s lives.”
“It’s a pleasure and privilege to get to work with such passionate students,” said Cortney Johnson, Haven co-adviser and director of the LGBT Resource Center. “Their vision of what their community needs is clear, and they work hard to implement that vision. We are very lucky that it’s our job to support them, and I can’t wait to see what next year holds.”
At the Pride Prom, students posed for photos with friends or partners in front of woodland-themed backgrounds. A DJ played anthems and classics, and a band performed live music. Students took plates of food onto the terrace to watch the sunset.
“There was one couple who had matching, mystically themed outfits with flower crowns, and it made me so happy to see them taking photos together and dancing and having the best time,” Gibbs-Porter said. “It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the superficial things, the external achievements at Cornell, and Haven is really about catering to the person underneath the student – like putting on a prom when we felt we needed it most.”