Date November 17, 2022
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Accessible, collaborative, visible: LGBTQ Center’s new home at Stonewall House opens

Thanks to a generous donation, Brown’s LGBTQ Center significantly expands space, programming and resources for the University’s queer community with its new location, known as Stonewall House.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The progress pride flag — a reinterpretation of the traditional rainbow pride flag, with added stripes to represent trans and nonbinary identities and people of color — anchors the exterior of Stonewall House, the new location of Brown University’s LGBTQ Center at 22 Benevolent St. in Providence.

Enabled by a generous gift from Katie and Brent Gledhill and their son Rowan, who graduated from Brown with his fifth-year master’s in 2022, Stonewall House reimagines the LGBTQ Center as a home on campus for members of Brown’s queer community. Now, in its new space — after 18 years in a small, third-floor office suite — the center has room to grow.

Located one block south of the College Green, the two-story house is renovated to reflect the needs of an ever-evolving identity center, and is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. Every detail — from a small addition directly connecting it to the next-door building that houses the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, to the size of the closets — is a product of intention, said Director of the LGBQT Center Caitlin O’Neill.

Exterior shot of Stonewall House
The progress pride flag and a balloon archway greet guests at Stonewall House's Grand Opening Ceremony in early November. Photo by Alicia Burnett/Brown University.

“Nothing beats the looks of absolute wonder and awe on all the students’ faces when they see this space for the first time and really see the care and respect that has clearly gone into this process,” O’Neill said. “It’s so incredibly heartwarming to see students’ faces when they see their dreams come to life.”

Designed entirely with students in mind, Stonewall House will serve as both a community gathering space and a home for queer scholarship and academic collaboration, O’Neill said.

Over the years, the center has ramped up its programming across the University, collaborating with other centers to advocate for the many identities that comprise Brown’s LGBTQ+ community. And for the first time, the LGBTQ Center is able to host some of those flagship programs — like Queer International Connections; the Women, Gender and Sexuality Peer Counselors; and the U-FLi QTs series, which provides space for students who are members of Brown’s undocumented, first-generation college and low-income community and identify as queer, trans or nonbinary.

“We’ve already seen an increase in requests for collaboration from other campus partners and students, ranging from athletics to Brown Emergency Medical Services to graduate students in the Center for Middle East Studies,” O’Neill said. “The house has highlighted our presence on campus, and some students are realizing for the first time that a place like the LGBTQ Center exists and is a home to find others who will see and celebrate them.”

At a grand opening ceremony in early November, Brown President Christina H. Paxson said she’s particularly excited by these connections, as they reflect just how multi-dimensional Brown students are.

“This is going to be a place where students come together around their LGBTQ+ identity,” Paxson said. “But they’re also going to bring all of these other aspects of themselves to this place and build a really strong community.”

A dedicated new home

The center’s prior location was in the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, tucked into a “room and a half,” according to O’Neill — hardly enough space for its own staff, let alone the Brown students who visited the center. Center events had to be booked elsewhere, social gatherings spilled into hallways, and though staff tried to make the space as accommodating as possible, it was clear the goals of the center had outgrown what the third-floor office space allowed it to achieve.

O’Neill said it was important that the new space be fully accessible, with room for an elevator, a kitchen and a larger restroom. It needed to evoke feelings of warmth, joy and home-like comfort. And it needed to be proudly visible.

The project’s inspiration was sparked roughly four years ago, when the Gledhills visited Rowan on campus and saw the LGBTQ Center bursting at its seams. By Spring 2021, wheels were in motion to renovate the existing Benevolent Street property for use as Stonewall House. Working with Facilities Management, students, staff and faculty affiliated with the center actively participated in the development of the space. They helped to select Kite Architects and Pezzuco Construction to refine the building’s form and function, and through multiple conversations, the designers and contractors learned how the space would be used.

The final result is a testament to the importance and centrality of Brown’s LGBTQ+ community, said Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes.

Students in the Garden Room
Undergraduate student and LGBTQ Center Digital Communications and Publicity Coordinator Danae Lopez, center, sits in the Garden Room at Stonewall House. Lopez says the new space allows for broader collaborations and deeper connections. Photo by Nick Dentamaro/Brown University.

For one, there’s actually room for students. There’s integrated technology and large television screens for speaking engagements, presentations and movie nights. A conference room can be used as classroom space and makes it possible for the center to host multiple events at once, which was impossible previously. There are places for students to participate in telehealth appointments in privacy, relax and play games.

“We can include everyone, especially those who may have felt physically disconnected from or left out of the center, like medical or grad students,” said Danae Lopez, a sophomore who works as the center’s digital communications and publicity coordinator. “Stonewall House just lets us brings so much more to the forefront of queer community at Brown.”

To retain the charm of the original home, designers preserved as many historical details as possible. They kept all eight fireplaces in the home and restored its carriage doors. Many of the floors are original hardwood, bearing intricate floral-design inlays; the only exception is the center’s tiled Garden Room, which was designed as an arts space where messes can be easily cleaned and won’t cause damage.

The new space and resources also enable the center to take a more holistic approach to attend to LGBTQ+ students’ needs.

Books and art print in Stonewall House
Colorful artwork and shelves of queer literature line the walls of Stonewall House. Photo by Nick Dentamaro/Brown University.

On the second floor, for example, a room with two large built-in closets is covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors; it serves as space for the center’s Clothing Exchange Initiative, in which students are building an inclusive “library” of queer style, experimenting with gender-affirming presentations, and sampling different clothing in a more private and supportive environment.

Though simple, the presence of these spaces can be life-changing, O’Neill said.

“There are queer and trans students, and just people in general, who can go years or what can feel like a lifetime without feeling like they have a home or that they’re being accepted, seen and valued in particular ways,” O’Neill said.

When envisioning the new location, the Gledhills believed it was crucial that there be a house — not just a center in the traditional sense, or a couple of different offices put together — but something that really felt like a home, where everyone was embraced.

We wanted a name that would encompass everyone who’s come before us and everyone who will carry the flag on after us.

Katie Gledhill Stonewall House donor and parent of Brown alumnus Rowan Gledhill
Donor Katie Gledhill speaks at a podium inside Stonewall House

The welcoming atmosphere and sense of family is one element that drew junior Emily Cigarroa to the LGBTQ Center, where she works as an events coordinator.

Joining the center as a first-year student was “the first time I was really able to have relationships with queer adults in my life, to talk with them and get life advice and mentorship and guidance,” she said. “Having that kind of presence in your life can be really stabilizing.”

It also provided Cigarroa with a safe haven where she feels comfortable in all aspects of her identity. “I think sometimes I forget what a privilege it is and how cool it is to be able to freely be myself,” she said.

With the new location, Cigarroa said she’s most excited to help others achieve that same feeling of being welcomed. “Brown is really exceptional in how many queer students there are, and in our variety — there’s no one type of queer student here,” she said. And while Cigarroa said her personal experience as a queer person at Brown has been overwhelmingly positive, she understands that might not hold true for every student on campus — which further underscores the importance of having a dedicated space like Stonewall House.

That's a sentiment echoed by Estes, who noted how rare identity centers were in higher education settings until recently — let alone ones with standalone buildings and robust programming.

“When I was in college, places like this didn’t exist,” Estes said. “So I think it’s important — really important — to celebrate the wins and how much progress happens over time.”   

Looking back, moving forward

Stonewall House is an ode to that progress.

The legacy of the center was critical to the Gledhills during the building’s dedication. In considering the center’s past and future, the Gledhills said they decided that they didn’t want their name on the outside of the building. Instead, “we wanted a name that would encompass everyone who’s come before us and everyone who will carry the flag on after us,” Katie Gledhill said.

They landed on Stonewall House, in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York, widely considered one of the most important events in the gay rights movement.

Stonewall House illustrated cake
An illustration of Stonewall House adorns a celebratory cake served at its Grand Opening Ceremony. Photo by Alicia Burnett/Brown University.

O’Neill said the name was an instant hit and a perfect fit.

“Our understanding of the history of Stonewall has changed a lot and really reflects the experiences and the makeup of our LGBTQ+ community here at Brown,” said O’Neill, noting that the community comprises not just queer people, but international students, people of color, and trans and nonbinary folks. “It’s a critical way for us to think about the larger community that we’re providing resources and space for.”

Over the course of 18 years at Brown, the LGBTQ Center has grown from a single part-time student position into an office with a director, assistant director, graduate student coordinator and 17 undergraduate staff members. With Stonewall House, further growth is all but guaranteed.

“I’m a big believer that visible, geographical, structural messages matter a lot,” said Estes, who said that upon his arrival at Brown six years ago, strengthening the identity centers was a top goal. “Our presence matters. Our contributions inside and outside the classroom matter, and this could not come at a more important time.”

The institutional support behind the center is meaningful, O’Neill said. And like the progress pride flag welcoming the community into the new space, it represents an upward trajectory intentionally designed to uplift others for years to come.

“For Brown to be saying, ‘This is a priority; this is a space that we really need; this is a space that we understand as being part of a larger puzzle of speaking to human rights here in Rhode Island and beyond’ is really essential,” she said. “It’s a commitment that you can see in space, increased funding and just what this is going to make possible for us.”