Rainbow Center presents a crash course in LGBTQ American Sign Language


Hayden Kristal teaches UConn students American Sign Language in the Rainbow Center on Wednesday. This highly interactive, variable and hilarious workshop also fosters a group discussion about Deaf culture, intersectionality, accessibility and more. 

On April 5th, students filled the Rainbow Center in anticipation for “GaySL: Crash Course in LGBTQ American Sign Language.”  The lecture featured Hayden Kristal, a Deaf, bisexual, Jewish, transgender activist and stand-up comedian.

Kristal’s presentation was a part of the Rainbow Center’s weekly program, “The Out to Lunch Gender, Sexuality, and Community,” which is “a weekly academic lecture and discussion series with guest scholars and community activists from various disciplines examining a variety of topics related to gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality” (per Rainbow Center event description).

Kristal began by introducing themself in American Sign Language (ASL) and then signing a few sentences in sign.  Although the whole presentation was spoken in English, there was still an interpreter stationed beside them, just to acknowledge the potential audience of the event.

The workshop began with Kristal reviewing the signs for the letters of the alphabet letter by letter.  Some of these signs became important when learning to sign some of the LGBTQ-themed phrases to be taught later in the workshop.

After completing the alphabet, Kristal taught the group how to sign each word that came from the acronym “LGBTQ” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer).  For some of the terms, Kristal noted that there was potentially more than one way of signing these words.  If there were multiple signs for a word, they taught the group all of the possible varieties.

Kristal explained that the importance of knowing all these sign combinations, despite personal preference or moral belief, stems from their desire for an intersectional society.  Although Kristal didn’t agree with some of the etymologies related to a few of the signs, teaching the group every possiblity was to give the group a more global view of varying processes and cultural norms across the world.

Intersectionality became the main focal point of the presentation, as they pointed out it is important to acknowledge everyone’s differences and create an environment accepting of these differences.

Although the lecture was part of the Rainbow Center’s programs, it also doubled as a guest lecturer opportunity for students to get class credit.

“I never thought about sign language and intersectionality combining,” said eighth-semester communications and WGSS major Casey Rutkowski.  “[The program] showed we need to think more about intersectionality, and think about others before we say or do anything because we don’t know how it’ll affect them.”

Kristal has been touring campuses across the country with this presentation for about 3 years now.  The goal was to, according to Kristal, identify “the importance of reaching out to other communities and building bridges to support each other.  I think that message is universal, no matter what community you identify with most strongly.”

In touring to these campuses across the country, Kristal has interacted with a variety of students and individuals, not only within the ASL and LGBT communities.

“Every nook and cranny of this country is packed with amazing, talented, brilliant people who are working hard every day to make their communities better. I feel so lucky to be able to meet so many of them, and when I am disheartened by politics or negativity in the media I just think about how many truly incredible people there are out there that we never get to hear about.”

Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.

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