Sami Binder ’18 has worked at Brooklyn College’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center for almost as long as the center has been in existence. Since starting there in 2015, Binder has been essential to its operations, helping to organize events like the Lavender Graduation and other activities that ensure a safe and welcoming space on campus.

Binder graduated in 2018 with a double major in theater and women’s and gender studies and a minor in LGBTQ studies. A student at the time of the center’s founding, Binder recalls how, before it opened in 2014, “queer students didn’t really have a space on campus where they could go and get the help they might need.”

Today, the center not only provides a welcoming space, but sponsors academic talks, film screenings, social events, identity-based workshops, as well as connections to personal counseling and mentoring opportunities, all “aimed at fostering a sense of belonging on campus,” says Director Kelly Spivey. Binder and Spivey, the center’s first full-time head, are its core staff.

The center also engages in joint initiatives with the Women’s Center and other identity-based groups on campus, and partners with off-campus organizations to provide access to resources that, says Binder, “our campus does not provide at the moment, like gender affirming care or hormone replacement therapy.”

In addition to this kind of structured support, a crucial function of the center is to maintain a safe place to convene, in 219 Student Center, “where students come to meet each other, play video games, use computers, drink coffee, and study,” says Spivey.

Students enjoy spending time there, says Binder, because for some, “this might be the only place where they’re able to be out and be their true self.” Many students live at home, says Binder, and some of those students “might not be out to their families—or they might not even be out elsewhere on campus—but when they come here, they are able to be in a safe and inclusive environment.”

Binder has long worked to make the Brooklyn College campus “a safer, more inclusive space.” As an undergraduate, Binder served as president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) student club and was involved in the project to institute all-gender restrooms on campus. Today, there’s at least one all-gender restroom in each building on campus.

The need for safe, inclusive spaces feels particularly urgent to Binder in the current political climate, in which LGBTQ+ book bans have increased and anti-trans legislation is being introduced across the nation. Responding to this rise in intolerance, Binder has been assembling a list of laws and policies in New York City and New York State, so that the center can make sure Brooklyn College students stay informed about what protections they have.

Even in light of these concerns, Binder leaves room for optimism. “I think overall, there is progress being made on campus and [off],” Binder says, and sees knowledge as a crucial tool for combating homophobia and transphobia, which is why the center hosts a wide variety of guest speakers and panels.

“Events are really important because they put a face to an identity,” says Binder, “You get to see, oh, this person is bi or this person is trans or this person is intersex, and so on. And you see them as a real person and not just a label. You see that they have their whole lived experience, and being queer is just part of that.”

Recently, Brooklyn College’s first in-person Lavender graduation ceremony featured guest speakers, performers, and messages of congratulation from President Anderson and others. Afterward, Binder received a message from a graduating student who shared, “It was such an honor, and very gracious of [the center] to ensure that those in our community know how loved, valuable, and special they are! That’s truly how I was made to feel!”

This message and the success of the ceremony buoyed Binder. “It feels great to be able to provide a space like this for our students,” says Binder.