How I Gradually Found My Queer Community in Connecticut

feature image by Walter Bibikow via Getty Images
Attending a historically women’s institution in the form of Wellesley College spoiled me: I graduated and was thrown into the “real world” of adulting, where I soon realized that queer community did not appear as magically.

In college, I became used to being surrounded by people who shared not just similar values and political beliefs, but I found friends, especially queer friends of color who had experiences with family, coming out (or not), the Internet (cheers to being closeted in high school and endless scrolling through Quinn Fabray and #Calzona GIFs on Tumblr), and the overall landscape of the United States and beyond that resonated with mine. I worked at the campus bar that held queer dance parties every Thursday night; I was part of the board that helped bring artists like Kehlani to campus; and I embraced new sides of myself by playing Rocky in Rocky Horror Halloween my senior year. Once the fateful day in June rolled around and the administration demanded seniors leave by 3 p.m. the very same day as the ceremony, I was left in a Brooklyn apartment unemployed and by myself, with little to no idea of how to make friends after leaving my women’s college bubble.

Twenty-two-year-old Padya used to have big dreams of getting a fancy job in media or advertising, hence the move to New York. But I ended up eventually finding a job at an edtech company based in New Haven, Connecticut — a city and state I’d never been to. Because I was still on my lease, they allowed me to work remotely, but I’d have to commute to the office once a week. I took a Greyhound to New Haven to attend a three-day orientation and training session. The company booked me at a hotel on the highway, and every morning I took an Uber to the office. During this trip, I did not get to see much of the city and assumed there wasn’t a lot going on. Because what even is in Connecticut, anyway?

Something notable did happen on my first day of training at the office. When all of my new coworkers introduced themselves during lunch, I made note of one person, Marianna, who had attended a different women’s college but had majored in the exact same gay fields as me: English and Women’s and Gender Studies. I made a mental note to try to befriend this person, but they seemed really put together. I was intimidated. We didn’t become friends — at least close friends — for a long time. Most of my other coworkers were straight. My days continued to be quite unexciting in my apartment. Having a job at least now allowed me to take a bus, train, or plane to other cities to meet up with my long-distance partner and other college friends and reminisce about the good old days of finding queer community the second I stepped out of my room.

After some moving back and forth, I ended up back in Brooklyn during the pandemic. Separated from all queer friends, and this time unable to take a bus — let alone a plane — anywhere else for a long time, I was completely isolated. Even though I had started grad school, classes were entirely online, and they made me too drained to even FaceTime my friends. Although this period of time did allow me to become more comfortable with exploring my gender identity and trying on different outfits, like crop tops, that I previously hadn’t been able to experiment with, I hated going long periods of time without human contact.
After a long, hard summer, vaccines did make things better in the spring. However, the real spring of my long, cold solitary days came right at the beginning of fall 2021. I decided to move in with my partner and our friends, Liz and Mer, who were engaged, and were people I had met in college and knew I’d love living with. They had lived in Boston previously, and because I was still going to grad school in New York, we decided on a location that would be a compromise, a middle between Boston and New York. And guess where that ended up being?

Yep. Good old New Haven.

Now, it wasn’t that New Haven didn’t have anything to offer previously. I’d spent some time in the city during my commuting-to-the-office era and very briefly before the pandemic, when I decided to just live here because I liked the people I worked with. But never during that time did I find any queer community — and the one coworker I’d clocked as queer on the first day, Marianna, lived in a different town. This time around, things felt different. I was living with queer friends (and the cutest cat in the world). I wasn’t alone — we did communal groceries, cooked for each other, and ate together almost every day. I was more eager to find community post-pandemic. And because I was commuting to New York for school, I wanted more of a feeling of “home” in New Haven.

A few serendipitous things happened in the weeks and months following the move that fall. The app Lex received a lot of traction, so naturally I had to download it. Even though I was — and still am — quite shy and anxious to meet up with new people, it was so cool to see other queer folk living around me. It also alerted me to fun queer events, yard sales, and queer-owned shops and restaurants. I used the app to chat with New Haven queers about my favorite K-pop band, discussed local food recommendations, and hyped up my roommate who could provide the New Haven gays with undercuts and buzzed hair. I learned how well stocked the local public library is, what to get at the vegetarian cafe and bakery, and found fellow writers who told me which coffee shops had the best working ambiance.

When Marianna — my one queer friend I made as an adult — had their apartment flooded, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Marianna moved to New Haven as a result and helped me unpack and build my new dresser. It was during this building expedition that I learned Marianna had met some friends through Lex who were interested in cultivating more community events for queer and trans people in the city. They were on the cusp of starting an organization, East Rock House, named after one of the biggest New Haven neighborhoods, and were planning open mics and vendor fairs specifically for the LGBTQ population.

I attended one of East Rock House’s earliest events, a creative mixer that highlighted local queer musicians and artists. It felt incredible. Hosted in a neighborhood I previously only liked because of a cozy diner (shoutout to The Pantry), the event was held in one of the organizer’s backyard. Wherever I looked, I saw very cool-looking queer people — whether they were vendors selling magazines, art prints, or leather goods, musicians belting out songs about queer desire, or just friendly attendees. Hanging out with Marianna, who proudly watched the evening unfold, and taking in this new scene gave me hope that this move was the right call. I could finally find queer community as an adult. It was incredible to see that even in the pandemic, people had found a way to support fellow queer folks in coming together and creating a beautiful outdoor event.

The third piece that clicked together was that my roommate Mer, who had done leather crafting as a hobby previously, left their job to concentrate on leather work full time. Under the name Beacon Craft Studio, Mer turned one of the rooms in our apartment into a workshop, making everything from wallets to earrings to harnesses. Mer also started participating in local vendor fairs and events. Supporting them meant exposure to new scenes: I found out about more queer scenes and events just through the privilege of being their roommate.

Often, especially before the weather turned cold, the events took place outside and felt COVID-cautious — this also helped us feel more comfortable in checking out new things and finding new people. Because New Haven is such a small city, one of the fun things that ended up happening was that a lot of the same people would appear across different places, just like on a TV show (yes, my idea of Connecticut was previously entirely based off of Gilmore Girls). For example, Mer had connected with a man who worked at the local board game shop to sell them dice trays. One day on a walk, we found him selling really cool clothes outside a local coffee shop. Stumbling across a spontaneous clothing sale, getting a second-hand sweatshirt that made me feel very good in my body, and seeing a familiar face all at one go has become part of the quintessential New Haven experience.

In early 2022, there were a few months where my mother, who lives back in Bangladesh, stopped talking to me after stumbling across some essays I’d written about my queerness. This confusing and heartbreaking time was when I truly understood the value of having a queer chosen family and support system. Though we initially didn’t leave the house a lot due to the Omicron outbreak, I found so much love in the friends I saw in New Haven. My house started a weekly Sunday brunch where we’d eat yummy baked goods and do the New York Times crossword with Marianna and their roommate Lillie. On the first day of Ramadan, I came back from school to find that Mer had cooked me an entire hen for Iftar. My roommates drove me to the local South Asian grocery store so I could cook all of my favorite dishes for Bengali New Year during house dinner. Even after my mom and I eventually talked things through, I knew that if something like that ever happened again, I wouldn’t be alone. I had people who loved me unconditionally and made me feel loved. I had experienced how much family wasn’t just biological, and home wasn’t just my birthplace or where I’d grown up. New Haven gets a bad rap, but I realized during that period that it had become my safe place.

Across 2022, we continued to make new queer friends and attend an even wider variety of events. Over the summer, an organization centering queer voices of color put together Punq Noire, a music festival which celebrated BIPOC punk artists and musicians. At the end of August, East Rock House had its first anniversary on Pitkin Plaza, a small outdoor plaza right next to G Cafe, a bakery and coffee shop. The local vendors and musicians were back, but what made that event special was the DJ playing music toward the end, encouraging everyone to dance their hearts out. I remember taking a second to stop and look around the beautiful people and community around me in the middle of dancing with my friends. Dancing with queer friends reminded me of my college days and inspired me to attend a Sapphic Saturday night at a local bar, where we were surrounded by possibly close to a hundred queer women and nonbinary people enjoying the music and being themselves. During both of these, I had such serotonin-filled bursts of happiness just having a good time with my friends who had become family. I’d never expected to love New Haven this much, let alone find so much queer joy.

I attended my first queer Halloween party since college at East Rock House’s “Haunting at the Hole,” which was an outdoor gathering featuring spooky music, a costume contest and of course, the local vendors. My partner and I dressed up as Stede and Blackbeard from Our Flag Means Death, while our roommates were Evelyn and Deirdre from Everything Everywhere All At Once. At this party, Mer bonded with several fellow crafters of color and came up with the idea of organizing a POC craft market the following month at Gather, a coffee shop/community space. During the second of the two sessions, I sat by Mer’s Beacon Craft Studio display and watched with pride as they sold their leather goods to people of all ages and backgrounds. The other crafters sold pottery, candles, jewelry, crocheted goods, and the ambiance was absolutely brilliant — especially in celebrating artists of color. Gather was also such a welcoming space. It is warm, with couches and tables for people to do work, and sells coffee as well as savory and sweet food and alcohol. It was really cool to discover a spot that was new to me, even after living in New Haven for over a year at that point.

Inspired by the warmth and love around me, I’ve also started hosting my own mini-events and gatherings. Over Thanksgiving, I had ten friends over and cooked all day to prepare a dinner that celebrated us. I’ve started sending around a sign-up sheet for “Open Mic(hael Buble)” an open mic night where I hope friends will not only showcase their talents in areas they’re comfortable with, but also in the second round, try their hand at a kind of performance they haven’t before. And I hope to cook the best meal of my life for Bengali New Year, coming up in April.

When I first visited New Haven back in March 2019 for my work orientation, all I saw out of my hotel room window was an IKEA and the highway. Today, New Haven symbolizes so much more to me. There is so much pride and joy in almost every day spent with the family I’ve built here. Every weekend, there’s a different party, music festival, or movie screening hosted by East Rock House or Qommunity or the Pride Center, whether celebrating LGBTQ creators and organizers or simply providing space for queer people to hang out and meet each other. Or my friends will get a spontaneous group of people together to meet up at a bar or restaurant or go to Mohegan Sun to watch our very gay WNBA team the Connecticut Sun. I look back at the time I struggled to find queer friends post-graduation and couldn’t be more grateful for all of the friendship that has been possible since the move to Connecticut. It truly has become a new (queer) haven (you know I had to make that pun at some point!).

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P is a Bangladesh-born, New Haven-based writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. Their work has appeared in Teen Vogue, them., Color Blog, VRV Blog, and Dogwood Journal, where she was a finalist for the Dogwood Literary Award in Nonfiction in 2020. They are the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Dream Glow Magazine, a literary journal inspired by the artistic project of BTS.

P has written 4 articles for us.


    • yeah that’s what i really appreciated about this piece…the reminder that even when things happen somewhat serendipitous manner, it still takes time and intention to build/find/merge communities

  1. Wow. Oops.

    I have been firmly anti-Connecticut for at least 15 years, and this article had me wanting to hop on Zillow!

    I love how this article showed the effort needed to build a community and how much beauty and comfort that can bring.

  2. OMG, I love this article. I lived in East Rock for 6 years and struggled to find any queer community. I wish I knew about East Rock House while I was still there.

    It is so hard to find a community in New Haven because it is so transient. I’m so glad you found one there!

  3. As a gay raised in CT, I’ve never resonated so strongly with a written line: “Because what even is in Connecticut, anyway?”

    Kidding aside, I love stories about finding queer community outside the big cities. Thanks for sharing!

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