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'Work to be done,' but fun comes 1st

Just steps beneath the entrance to the West Campus Plaza every Friday at 4 o'clock, the faint drone of Justin Timberlake can be overheard from an otherwise unassuming hallway.

The LGBT Center hosts its Fabulous Fridays each week, inviting members and nonmembers alike to enjoy conversation, plan events and engage in spontaneous free-style dancing.

"It's cool to be able to walk in and know that everyone's accepting," Laura Gauch, a freshman and Chronicle staff member, said as she picked the crumbs off of a rainbow-striped cupcake wrapped in hippie flower-print paper.

The organization's office, located beneath The Loop, is easily overlooked, leaving only students prone to misplacing their DukeCard to recognize the center's entrance signs on the West Union Building. But once inside, a lounge of sofas and booming MacBook speakers welcome guests to the underground party.

"We try really hard to make the center an accommodating place," said junior Sejin Lim, vice president of AQUADuke. "The Center is small, but we feel like a family. As an LGBT student, it provided us with a community."

Amidst empty Domino's pizza boxes and casually strewn backpacks, students huddle in groups to vent about classes and combat for a commanding DJ position. Like Gauch, many of the event's attendees are freshmen, although they appear to be surrounded by lifelong friends.

New member Mimi Zam swirls her brush across a poster she will paint to display on the LGBT Center's float for next Saturday's Pride Parade.

"I feel like Duke is too preppy for me," said Zam, who recently graduated from the Durham School of the Arts. "It scared me at first, but people who are similar tend to gather."

Donning a newsboy cap with a hot pink and orange scarf, Zam sharply clashes with the campus' sea of polo-shirted students.

Turning to admire the pastel purple background of a poster reading "Duke Love = Love," Gauch expounded upon Zam's initial reservations about life as an openly gay student on campus.

"[In my high school] of 120 students, everybody knew, and it wasn't an issue," Gauch said. "[The Center] is just a comfortable place."

As groups begin to form and students settle into the scene, a silence falls over the room. While some have taken to analyzing a Missy Elliot track, most have gathered around a long drawing table-the artists inside of them pour paint onto posters of purple Blue Devil icons, unicorns with heart-shaped eyes, and slogans like "Duke Allies" in eye-catching, multicolored text.

With so many first-year and first-time students attending Fabulous Fridays, the Center has addressed new interest through publicity events on both East and West campuses, Program Coordinator Chris Purcell said.

"We held a chocolate social on East Campus, as well as a discussion group," he said. "There is a lot of work to do here."

Some freshmem, Purcell added, have gone back in the closet. He said he hopes to show students through Living Our Lives, a discussion and support group, that there are a lot of openly gay students at Duke.

Veterans of the Center, however, seem to have settled into their community.

"I feel pretty comfortable being gay anywhere," Lim said. "The Duke campus has been getting better gradually and consistently."

Although Lim said he has received uncomfortable stares from fellow partygoers while dancing with friends, he credits Duke for its generally gay-friendly community.

Other attendees of the center, however, said negative stereotyping can be prevalent on campus.

But for LGBT students, Fabulous Fridays provides an outlet for this identity. Within two hours, a group of attendees has begun to engage in magazine slapping fights and what will soon become full-on dance-offs.

The primary-colored food coloring is nearly indistinguishable from the group's sponge paint, but members are clearly not concerned with the mess. Instead, they are focused on promoting future events, including National Coming Out Day October 11.

"We're going to gay up the Plaza," Purcell said of the center's plans for the day. "It will be a more visible event than it has been in the past so that LGBT people will see that there are other LGBT people out there."

Meanwhile, Gauch finishes up her purple "Love" poster with one swift brushstroke, just as satisfyingly as she had her cupcake.


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