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Yale has been widely known as the Gay Ivy since at least 1987, when Julie V. Iovine '77 declared in the Wall Street Journal, “Suddenly Yale is a gay school.” She didn’t offer serious evidence, but she had evidently hit on something true, because the concept stuck. Today, Yale’s reputation as the Gay Ivy is familiar to most students and younger alumni—it’s even included in Yale’s entry on Wikipedia, that useful guide to the common wisdom.
What does “the Gay Ivy” mean? It’s not that Yale is a minority-heterosexual school. You have only to visit campus in the springtime to see boy-girl romance blooming all over, ubiquitous as ever.
Yale probably does, however, have a higher proportion of gay students than other Ivies; there are no statistics, but many gay Yale students think it’s true. And if you walk around campus for a while on your visit, you may see a gay couple holding hands. For the central point of the Gay Ivy tag is that Yale is a gay-friendly school. The campus is unusually welcoming to gay and lesbian students and has an active, multifaceted gay social scene.
How did this happen? Not through a strategic plan. Yale was one of the last Ivies to create an office of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) resources. The current administration is gay-friendly, but Yale administrators historically have not sought to push the envelope on these issues.
Nor was Yale’s reputation created through alumni activism. Yale GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni) just held its first reunion, and the prominent gay alumni who spoke included Bruce Cohen '83, producer of Milk, and Larry Kramer '57, author of The Normal Heart. Margaret Marshall '76JD, who wrote the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, is also an alum. But Yale has many alumni who oppose pro-gay policies, such as Heather Mac Donald '78, who criticized Yale in the Weekly Standard for starting the LGBTQ resources office; Maggie Gallagher '82, president of the National Organization for Marriage; and the Right Reverend John Guernsey '75, who joined his flock with the Anglican Church of Uganda after the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop.
Rather, it was gay students themselves who changed Yale. For most of the twentieth century, Yale was a terrible place to be gay. Many alumni who attended the GALA reunion had been so unhappy as students that they'd never before returned to campus. In the following essay, adapted from his keynote at the GALA reunion, Yale historian George Chauncey '77, '89PhD, sketches that early history of alienation and traces how decades of effort by Yale’s gay students drove a cultural shift. Then four personal memoirs show us the shift as it played out in the lives of four Yale alumni, from the classes of 1977 through 2009.
I was an undergrad at Yale in the ’70s and a grad student in the ’80s, and then, after 15 years off for good behavior at the University of Chicago, returned here three years ago as a professor of history. Since returning, I’ve been astonished to see how much Yale has changed, and that almost all of that change has been for the better. One of the most remarkable transformations has been in the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and faculty. As a grad student here, even with the support of historians John Boswell and Nancy Cott, I encountered considerable skepticism when I decided to write a dissertation in gay history. Twenty years later, Yale hired me because of that scholarship, and I teach a lesbian and gay history lecture course every fall and a junior seminar every spring. Sixty students took my lecture course this year, half of them straight, and they thought taking a course like mine was no more queer than, say, a white student taking a black history class.
This would have been unthinkable to me 20 years ago. But it’s consistent with what Yale has become in the twenty-first century. Every college student here today, gay and straight alike, knows that Yale has a reputation for being an exceptionally hospitable and exciting place to be gay. Its reputation as a gay-friendly campus is so well established it may have helped attract unusually large numbers of gay students, even if not the “one in four” of campus lore.
That reputation is something we can all take pride in. But it didn’t just happen; it was achieved. Nor did this change occur at Yale alone. There has been a sea change in the place of LGBT people in American society in the last generation. The changes at Yale have been bound up in that larger cultural transformation, and analyzing them gives us some sense of how it took place across the nation.
Yale has a remarkably rich and revelatory queer history. I’ll focus on the last 50 years rather than the first 250, so I won’t begin by explaining, as I do in my lecture course, why New Haven was the most vindictive colony in all of British America in prosecuting sodomy—executing two men in the 1640s not far from where Yale’s Old Campus stands today.
Instead, let me begin in the mid-nineteenth century, when Yale students lived in a very different emotional and erotic universe from ours, in which homosexuality and heterosexuality didn’t yet exist as categories of sexual experience and identity. There are numerous diaries at Sterling Library from those years in which Yale students recorded their physical intimacy. Close friends sometimes slept together, not because they didn’t have their own beds, and not necessarily to have sexual relations, but because sharing a bed was a sign that they had achieved the sort of intense friendship and emotional intimacy that students prized, and because sharing a bed was a way of deepening that intimacy. In 1858, for instance, Edward Sheffield regularly spent the night with his classmate and close friend Asher Wilcox. They didn’t think of this as peculiar or queer; it variously seemed a fun, enriching, or emotionally charged thing to do. At the same time, the fact that many young men shared beds without being regarded as homosexual didn’t mean the practice had the same meaning for all of them, or that none of them had distinctly erotic longings for other men. One of the striking features of these diaries is that they reveal some students worrying that their passionate attractions to other men surpassed the boundaries of normal, acceptable intimacy.
Such intimacy was even more common among women. In 1873, for instance, a group of Yale men who'd visited Vassar complained about the phenomenon of women's “smashes” on other women, which produced such a level of devotion, even obsession, between them that it was hard for a Yale man to get noticed. And both Vassar women and Yale men, of course, regularly cross-dressed to play the parts of the other sex in their school productions.
This began to change in the early twentieth century, as the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality began to organize people’s sexual lives, and as the newly constituted heterosexual majority anxiously began to police its borders by suppressing any signs of homosexuality. We can see the trend in a new regulation issued at Yale in 1915, which prohibited men in the Dramat from playing women’s roles more than two years in a row. Men had to play these roles occasionally, of course, but female impersonation, which had long been a staple of family entertainment, was now beginning to be associated with sexual degeneration.
We can also see the change more subtly in the shifting boundaries of physical intimacy considered acceptable among Yale men. In formal portraits of the football team from the late 1800s, the most striking thing to our eyes is the degree of physical intimacy between the men, who drape their arms over each other and put their hands on one another’s shoulders, knees, and hearts.
That closeness began to disappear in the early decades of the twentieth century. Men began to avoid such intimacy for fear of being called queer, and instead kept their arms, and their hands, carefully to their sides or on their own knees. Compare the football players in 1902, near the end of what we usually regard as the sexually repressive Victorian era, and in 1968, at the height of the sexual revolution, and you get a sense of how the new incitements to heterosexual intimacy were linked to the suppression of same-sex intimacy. And homosexuals.
The policing of homosexuality became especially severe in the mid-twentieth century. The strongest anti-gay voices demonized homosexuals as child molesters, sex degenerates, sex fiends, and sex murderers. Police raids on lesbian and gay bars became common, and at the height of McCarthyism in the early 1950s the State Department dismissed more gay people than communists.
This repression had powerful effects on the emerging gay world, nationwide and at Yale. Even as more men and women began to identify as gay and to develop a group life together, they learned they had to keep their gay meeting places carefully hidden, and to keep their own homosexuality a secret from outsiders in order to secure the kind of work and respect they wanted. By the 1940s and '50s, much of gay life had been pushed underground.
Still, students who found their way into the underground discovered a more vibrant gay scene at Yale than they—or we—might have expected. The music and drama schools were the largest and most visible centers of gay life on campus, since they drew creative and unconventional souls who were less likely to care about sexual respectability than, say, young businessmen or lawyers. Some undergrads gravitated toward those gay scenes, or found their equivalent in the Yale Dramat and other theater and a cappella groups. (Indeed, the exceptional vibrancy of theater, music, and other arts at Yale may long have attracted disproportionately large numbers of gay students.) Groups of friends visited New York together, where there were dozens of gay bars and restaurants clustered in four distinct gay neighborhoods. Some students went to the handful of bars in New Haven—an all-out gay bar called Pirelli's, and two “normal” bars (the Taft Hotel bar and George & Harry's) where gay men met more discreetly.
But students could also find gay life in the college itself, if they knew where to look. One reliable account reports that in the 1930s at least one Yale fraternity was secretly all gay, and in the '40s and '50s, when students could still choose their residential college, Jonathan Edwards College developed a gay reputation. Bolder students even threw all-gay parties in their rooms.
One psychiatrist who counseled these students in the 1940s commented on the enormous anti-gay pressures they faced. All of them felt the pressure to date women, to suppress any sign of effeminacy, and to put on a straight face to the world. But he also noted that they responded to those pressures in diverse ways, some capitulating to the expectations they would marry after college, others moving to New York to create a life of their own.
The trouble for many gay or questioning students, though, was that gay life was so carefully hidden they couldn’t find it.
A story the AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer '57 tells about his Yale days encapsulates the situation. He has often told how, lonely and despondent, he tried to commit suicide during his freshman year in 1953. The university insisted that he start seeing a psychiatrist, Clements Fry, and during his first visit Larry told Fry about meeting two other freshmen, Jim and Peter, who'd already moved in together in their freshman dorm. They'd painted the room all black and removed everything but a single mattress, also black, which they clearly shared, and an elegant coffee table accented with a single rose. They played a record by the black British cabaret singer (and gay favorite) Mabel Mercer as they served him tea. Fry’s reaction, Larry recalls, was: “I wouldn’t see those guys anymore if I were you.”
This, in effect, was Fry's—and Yale’s—standard line. Fry realized there were many self-accepting gay students and faculty at Yale, men who, as Fry wrote in 1945, “work through quickly to an acceptance of their homosexuality and of sexual activity” and who “contribute greatly” to society. Unlike McCarthy and the Eisenhower administration officials who tried to purge homosexuals from the federal government in the 1950s, neither Fry nor other Yale administrators tried to purge gays from the university. But they did worry about gays seducing impressionable young men into the homosexual life. As Fry wrote, “Within the university [these homosexual students] acted as a magnet, attracting other homosexuals and exercising an influence over those who were not consciously homosexual or whose sex lives were unorganized. … They constituted a threat to others.”
To counter this so-called threat, he discouraged students like Larry from associating with gays, and Yale generally enforced a code of silence about homosexuality. Professors knew they needed to remain “discreet” in their teaching as well as their personal lives if they wished to flourish here. And almost all gay people realized an unequal social contract had been imposed upon them. It allowed them to remain productive members of the Yale community, but only so long as they kept their homosexuality a secret from outsiders. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ruled the land.
As intended, the great damage wrought by this unequal contract was that many, many students struggling to understand and come to terms with their sexuality never found other people like themselves, never knew such people even existed at Yale. And many heterosexual students accepted the demonization of homosexuals because they never realized they knew any. Anti-gay policing reproduced itself this way across the country.
How did that begin to change? In a word, the sixties. Or, really, the ’70s and the ’80s.
The gay movement that developed in the postwar years was an “identity movement,” set in motion by the relentless assertion by the state and other disciplinary authorities that sexuality provided a key to the self and that homosexuality was a disqualification from citizenship rights. From the beginning, it was shaped by the minority rights discourse and protest tactics modeled by African Americans and other groups. In the late '60s, it began to echo black nationalists' calls for black power and black pride.
I've argued in my book Why Marriage? that the gay movement’s insistence on breaking the old social contract with heterosexuals and renegotiating its terms—by asserting gay people’s right to live their lives openly—was also profoundly shaped by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s. All around them, lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men saw their heterosexual friends decisively rejecting the moral codes of their parents' generation, which had limited sex to marriage, and forging a new moral code that linked sex to love, pleasure, freedom, self-expression, and common consent. Heterosexuals, in other words, were becoming more like homosexuals, in ways that ultimately would make it harder for them to believe gay people were outsiders from a dangerous, immoral underworld. Moreover, the fact that so many young heterosexuals considered sexual freedom to be a vital marker of personal freedom made lesbians and gay men feel their quest for freedom was part of a larger movement. Ultimately, both gay people’s mass decision to come out and heterosexuals' growing acceptance of them were encouraged by the sexual revolution and became two of its most enduring legacies. I think this did not represent the assimilation of gay life into the Normal so much as the transformation of the Normal itself.
Gay organizing at Yale was born of this ferment, especially as new admissions policies made the student body more diverse, with the arrival of women and more students of color than ever before. What soon became the Gay Alliance at Yale (GAY) was made possible, in many ways, by the prior militancy of the Black Student Alliance at Yale and related groups. Black gay students, in fact, provided critical early leadership in GAY.
Still, in retrospect, the goals of early organizers seem modest indeed. Activists simply wanted to create a more visible gay presence on campus, so other students would know they weren’t alone, and a discussion forum. In 1969-70, just a few months after the famous riots at the Stonewall Inn in which gays and trans people fought back against a police raid, the Homosexuality Discussion Group was formed and started weekly meetings at Dwight Hall. In a sign of how quickly the terrain was changing, the group renamed itself the Gay Alliance at Yale within a year, effectively coming out as a gay organization.
One of the first things gay activists worked for were courses that took their lives seriously. In spring 1973, Steve Strange '73, the new president of GAY, persuaded the Calhoun college seminar committee to sponsor a course titled “Homosexuality in Contemporary America.” I was one of the 20 students who took the course that fall. It was a transformative experience to literally sit at the feet of course visitors Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, giants who helped launch the gay movement, and to discover that there were writers in the world who had much to teach me about the history, sociology, and culture of (homo)sexuality.
Although the mostly male GAY did important work, the most dynamic political scene in those years was lesbian feminist. Lesbian feminism developed a richer institutional life and political theory than gay male politics did in the 1970s. By the end of the decade, New Haven was home to an extraordinarily vibrant and complex women’s culture and lesbian feminist movement: the Feminist Union; feminist bookstores, women’s health centers, self-defense classes; cooperative business ventures that sold women’s music, organic food, and, yes, Birkenstocks. When the Feminist Union brought the poet Adrienne Rich to New Haven in 1980, she spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at Trinity Church on the Green.
This had a powerful effect on many women at Yale, who formed Yalesbians in 1975 but often spent more time in the city’s feminist bookstores and communes than on what still felt like a male-dominated and hostile campus. They brought a heightened level of political sophistication and engagement to campus discussions, and they joined other feminist students to push successfully for a Yale Women’s Center and a women’s studies program.
Still, at the end of the 1970s gay politics and the gay social scene remained limited. It was in the 1980s that both took off at Yale. This is how I remember it—having graduated in 1977 and returned to grad school two years later—and I’ve been struck by how many alumni said the same thing to my student, Anna Wipfler '09, who wrote her senior essay on gay student organizing from the mid-'70s to mid-'80s.
In 1980, the Gay Student Center began a series of gay-straight raps (that is, discussions). Later that year David Norgard '83MDiv founded the Gay and Lesbian Cooperative (Co-op), a campus-wide coordinating and political action group. It started a campaign to have sexual orientation added to Yale’s nondiscrimination clause, which it won in 1986. But perhaps most importantly, in 1982 it launched GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days), a week of lectures, films, rap sessions, and poetry readings, culminating on Saturday with a rally and dance.
Five years earlier, in 1977, a group of us had organized the first such week-long extravaganza, which we called Gay Rights Week. It was basically one long effort to encourage people to come out: first by asking them to staff tables outside every college dining hall—where, ultimately, we collected 2,000 signatures in support of the Connecticut Gay rights bill; then by asking everyone to wear pink triangles (we were a bit ahead of the curve, so we couldn’t buy buttons and had to make them out of construction paper); and then by staging the first-ever gay rally—and dance—on Cross Campus.
So there was a precedent for GLAD. But GLAD was different. The rally drew a much larger crowd, filling the lawn of Cross Campus with gay students and straight supporters who leapt to their feet and cheered when Maia Ettinger '83 (see “Generations”), the most visible and outspoken lesbian on campus, gave an electrifying speech about the homophobia students faced. GLAD also marked the maturation of gay politics on campus. Under the leadership of David Wertheimer '84MDiv, the Co-op became an institution strong enough to sustain student activism year after year, and a place where lesbians and gay men, and eventually bisexuals and trans people too, worked together, or at least worked at working together.
Remarkably, there has been a GLAD, or BGLAD, or Pride Month at Yale every April since 1982, and their annual appearance did much to transform the university. Many a frightened student found the courage to come out after going to a GLAD workshop or film, or seeing friends wearing pink triangles, or walking by the Cross Campus rally.
The Co-op, GLAD, and gay life on campus were also profoundly shaped in the 1980s by the spread of AIDS. Its awful history is beyond my scope here: the tremendous losses we suffered—the friends and lovers, teachers and leaders, killed by the epidemic; the Yale grads who went on to play key roles in the battle against AIDS. But AIDS had a galvanizing effect on all queer organizing, producing a new level of radicalism and militancy in gay politics as well as AIDS politics, as the government’s murderous neglect confronted us with how despised and marginalized we still were. Beyond that, it encouraged a generation of people to come out by confronting them with the fact that, as the AIDS activist organization ACT UP put it, Silence equaled Death, and to remain silent was to be complicit with that neglect.
As coming out became a mass phenomenon in the mid-'80s, it had a profound effect on gay-straight relations at Yale, as elsewhere, because many “out” gays sought to change the anti-gay attitudes of their roommates, friends, and families. Their commitment to educating those closest to them led to countless moments of struggle and debate in dorms, living rooms, and workplaces, which ultimately led many heterosexuals to support the rights of people who they now realized were not alien pariahs but were often among those they most loved and respected.
The Co-op also reinvigorated one of the most effective organizing tools on campus: the gay dance. By the height of their popularity in the mid-1980s, Co-op dances were the hippest and biggest on campus, attracting up to a thousand people.
Perhaps even more than the rallies, those dances helped transform the place of gay students on campus. At a time when gay students still risked harassment or at least cold stares if they dared dance together at other events, the Co-op dances welcomed them and gave them a chance to see their numbers. Equally important, their popularity gave gay students a cachet on campus, a coolness factor that caught the attention of other students and brought more and more straight students to the dances. There they found themselves in a gay-defined and -controlled space where they abruptly discovered how many of their friends were gay—and that part of their coolness was that they really knew how to dance. Except for the occasional gawker, most of those heterosexuals were gay-friendly, and the dances made them even more so.
The fact that a thousand students showed up at a Co-op dance in the spring of 1987 was part of what caught the attention of a 1977 Yale grad and freelance journalist, Julie Iovine—that, and the astonishing idea that lesbians might wear lipstick. The Wall Street Journal published her shocked and shocking account of the fact that Yale had become “a gay school.” Worried about how alumni might react, President Benno Schmidt '63, '66LLB, wrote 2,000 of Yale’s biggest donors and alumni fund-raisers to insist that Yale was no such thing.
Schmidt's response was a sign of the growing polarization of American society over homosexuality. Many people, especially college students and other young people in metropolitan regions, were beginning to embrace their gay friends; many others, including many parents, were still horrified at the thought of young people embracing gay friends or becoming gay themselves. Yale had learned this the hard way three years earlier, when GALA placed its first ad in the pages of the Yale Alumni Magazine. It looks innocuous today, but in 1984 the ad produced one of the largest outpourings of hostile letters the magazine had ever seen.
The hostile alumni, though, were on the losing side of history. Even as Yale became more gay-friendly, it moved to the next frontier, playing a formative role in the creation of the new field of LGBT studies. In October 1987, Yale’s new Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, one of the first two in the nation, organized its inaugural conference, which attracted 40 speakers and an audience of 200 students and academics. In 1988 and 1989 Yale hosted two more such conferences, each drawing more speakers and many more registrants than the one before it. As academic gatherings of the most generative sort, these conferences played a critical role in building a new community of scholars and a new field of study.
The fact that they took place at Yale—along with the towering presence of the late Yale medievalist John Boswell and the support later provided by the five-year-long Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies—had a dramatic impact on campus. Yale now boasts one of the world’s preeminent programs in LGBT studies. Students can choose from numerous courses in LGBT history, literature, ethnography, cultural studies, theory, and other subjects. These courses both provide students with critical analytical tools and send a powerful message that Yale takes these subjects seriously.
Yale was slower to provide the administrative support to LGBT students that has become common in the Ivy League and on campuses nationwide. But in January it officially launched the new Office of LGBTQ Resources. Among her many projects, director Maria Trumpler '92PhD works closely with the current generation of student activists, training undergraduates to serve as peer counselors and helping to fund Pride Month (the latest iteration of GLAD) and Transgender Awareness Week.
In the 20 years since the Wall Street Journal article, Yale has come steadily closer to living up to the reputation the article gave it. But there’s an irony here. By the 1990s, the Co-op was finding it harder to rally students to the barricades, in part because so many of the old barriers seemed to have fallen. Gay dances declined in popularity as gay students became welcome at almost every dance on campus. Today, openly gay students are more visible on campus than ever, but they are so thoroughly a part of the collegiate scene that the queer political passions and solidarities of the '80s seem to them like emblems of a different era.
The best thing about returning to Yale for me is that it lets me teach and work with the extraordinary students here. And what I hear from my students is that Yale today is a fundamentally different school from the one I went to 30 years ago.
At the start of my lesbian and gay history lecture course, I ask my students to write me a short ethnography about the place of LGBT people at Yale and in their hometowns. It’s a way for me to overcome the anonymity of the lecture hall and to keep in touch with student experience today. Here is what a gay freshman from a conservative town wrote last fall:
I still marvel at how different his freshman year was from mine. Although gay marriage, transgender rights, and other issues remain controversial, and too many high schools are still alienating or even dangerious places for LGBT youth, this student has grown up in a world transformed by a generation of change. That change extended far beyond Yale, but it took place cumulatively in the minutiae of local encounters and everyday life. Several generations of Yale students—gay and straight alike—helped bring it about. They changed Yale and the world around it more than they once dreamed possible.
As the designer of the first Yale GALA ad, which ran in this magazine 25 years ago and was pictured on page 42 of the July/August 2009 issue, I’d like to add a commendatory footnote to George Chauncey’s engrossing account. He notes that “the ad produced one of the largest outpourings of hostile letters the magazine had ever seen.” There’s a bit more to say.
Alphonsus J. Mitchell, who was then the editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine, met that outpouring with a quiet, dignified, and principled rebuke. He publicly reminded his angry readers, a number of whom demanded that their subscriptions be canceled and even threatened to cut their ties to Yale entirely, that the ad “merely invites people to meet and organize, fundamental rights available to everybody in this country.”
After the tide of letters shifted to a more affirmative tone, Mitchell wrote privately in May 1984: “The ice is broken, probably forever. There may be skirmishes over GALA in the future but, judging from what has been said and written to me, the audience is accepting and supportive of its existence. The GALA people, of course, deserve the credit for this. But it slowly dawned on me that President [A. Bartlett] Giamatti had provided very subtle but effective leadership in this. The whole thing could have been very different if someone else was in Woodbridge Hall.”
Or at the editor’s desk.
I am truly struck by the significant differences in the comments that have appeared here about the current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, especially when they are sorted by graduation year and the assumed respective ages of the graduates. Graduates from earlier years—with a few notable exceptions—find the issue of gays at Yale to be anything from distasteful to a degradation of Yale’s reputation. More recent alums are far more supportive, and recognize that the LGBTQ community deserves its place and visible role alongside of every other constituency that comprises the diverse population of a great institution of learning.
Rarely has a social movement for basic equality gained so much momentum in single generation. We have come so far, so fast, that I am stunned by the progress. That the insecurities and hostilities of so many in older generations are being so rapidly eclipsed by the openness and acceptance of those who are younger is a tribute to the capacity of human understanding to grow and increase as we continue to evolve as a community, a culture, and a species.
Back in the 1980s, when we were organizing LGBTQ issues on the Yale campus, I never would have dreamed that the Yale Alumni Magazine would run an issue such as this one. And I never could have imagined that the perspectives articulated by older Yale alumni would so quickly become outdated and antiquated when contrasted with those who have followed.
A Darwinian take
In response to the opinions of two members of the classes of '60 and '67, I am reminded of what we in the Marine Corps were prone to intone: “The Corps isn’t what it used to be, but, then again, it never was.”
Over the three hundred plus years of its existence, Yale has expanded its admissions to include Catholics, Jews, and other religious practitioners, students from every state and many foreign countries, more high school graduates than prep school graduates, racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBT (have I got that right?). On the face of it, it would appear that Yale may be running out of categories to include (but I won’t bet on it).
I have been attempting to imagine all that has transpired between this year’s 50th reunion Class of 1959 and the Class of 2009 and all that transpired between the Class of 1959 when it graduated and the Class of 1909, and the differences (and similarities) have quite literally boggled my mind.
In point of fact, it really doesn’t amount to the proverbial fart in a windstorm that those of us in the Class of '61 are comfortable, uncomfortable, or none of the above with the present state of the university, except that it may affect how much money, if any, the Alumni Fund can gently extort from our wallets or wills. Yale may desire to revert to the Collegiate Gothic womb with the design of the new colleges (and I suspect the design is more for the alumni than for the students whose principal concerns will be all the mod-cons and whether or not the location will be accessible). But in other extremely fundamental respects, Yale appears to me to be a living organism, evolving like the Paleolithic amphibians (have I got Darwin right?).
And that, I submit, is not only probably the way it should be, but also probably the way it will continue to be.
What are the horrible, hateful comments doing on this website? Please take them down immediately. I’m ashamed and offended, and I know I may sound extremist and hypocritical, but you know these comments would never fly if they were about an article called “The ‘Black Ivy.’”
For some reason people seem to have more trouble identifying unacceptable behavior when it is sexist, homophobic, or heterosexist than when it is racist. But that doesn’t mean the former kinds of intolerance are any less reprehensible.
Please count me among those who applaud you (and Yale) for the July/August cover story on the “Gay Ivy.” For the record, I’m male, straight, and old (73 years).
“Not what I want to read”
I found your cover story on gay students at Yale mildly interesting, but I am astounded at the letters you received from my fellow alumni about it. The strident homophobia professed, even proudly, in some of these letters was more than depressing, it was cause for reassessing just what progress this country, and Yale, congratulates themselves for achieving.
Is Yale “gay"? Well, yes, homosexuals are found on campus in greater numbers than demographics might predict. But so are Jews, and I doubt that any Yale president would rush to reassure alumni that Yale is not a “Jewish” university, as Benno Schmidt did in the face of entirely accurate publicity twenty years ago stating Yale is home to a large homosexual subculture. (His notorious public letter to that effect marked the low point of my affections for Yale.)
That people such as myself elicit a “visceral” repulsion in others is not what I want to read in the letter section of the Yale Alumni Magazine, any more than I want to read (or am likely to) opinion to the effect that African American Yalies have offensive body odor, or that women undergraduates are less intelligent than their male classmates. I ask that you think more carefully about the letters from alumni that you publish, and more carefully about how your many gay and lesbian readers may understandably react to them.
Paul Loomis defines his attitude to homosexual activity as "visceral.” Like most heterosexuals, I can understand his feelings; occasionally when I have thought about what homosexuals actually do sexually, which to be sure is not often, I have sometimes felt distaste. So what? My reaction only demonstrates that my gut feelings are poor guides to moral judgment. They can be stupid. A morally mature person will not let them determine his choices.
Fifty years ago, a majority of white Americans probably found the idea of sexual relations between African Americans and whites, especially between black men and white women, as repellent. Those feelings were quite sincere but entirely pernicious, and, when they were acted on, they led to unspeakable cruelties.
Mr. Loomis is right to make the connection between his feelings and his conservative politics, which are also, he tells us, moved by “disgust.” One of several ways in which contemporary American conservatism resembles fascism is that it gives voice and authority to primitive revulsion at such groups as homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals. In the young Hitler’s revulsion at the many “non-Aryans” he was forced to see in Vienna lay the seeds of Nazism and its attendant horrors.
To be sure, there are occasions where disgust is an appropriate reaction. Rape, the abuse of children, and deliberate cruelty properly evoke it. But, to be moral adults, we have to judge our gut feelings critically in the light of a rational understanding and not give them the kind of authority that Mr. Loomis gives his. Or as Aristotle put it, we need not eliminate our gut feelings, but rather we must educate them so that they are the appropriate for the matter at hand.
Not so fast
My 1960 classmate Paul Loomis wrote of his “disgust” with the gay lifestyle, opining that “most of my former classmates would be … very uncomfortable being a Yalie now.” As a married (44 years) heterosexual with 3 married children and 7 grandchildren (none gay so far as I know), I’d be even more proud and comfortable to be at Yale now than I was in the late '50s.
And bravo to the Yale Alumni Magazine for dealing in depth with this important subject.
Another personal memoir
My coming out in 1973 left me with bad feelings all around when my roommates reacted negatively. One said that if I saw a change in him I would know why. I enlisted his help in moving into a single room. I believed I could still trust him. I had hardly any contact with him and the two others after that and throughout the years I could not rid myself of bad feelings when I thought of them until I wrote about the entire episode in a journal.
It was then that I realized that although two of them ridiculed me, the other one whom I had trusted had actually shown respect throughout. Helping his girlfriend set up a birthday table for him in the dining hall was something I had done happily. I left a pair of tickets to Deep Purple. I decided he had worked out his feelings when he showed up at my doorstep on my birthday. In his hand was a copy of Death in Venice.
How sad it is to learn that the Yale Alumni Magazine has received so many letters advocating the continuance of homophobia. One would hope that graduates of Yale, working their way through what they have been made to feel about gays, would come to see the parallel between the struggle for civil rights for homosexuals and that of other oppressed groups, including blacks, Irish, Jews, women, and (still in the offing) atheists.
There is an obvious answer to Martin L. Fackler’s question: “Why must gays feel compelled to broadcast their sexual preferences?” They do so, sir, for the same reason we have had “black power,” the NAACP, and similar organizations for other peoples subject to prejudice. Like Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, these groups realize that if they are to gain equality, they must first be recognized.
As for Paul Loomis’s "disgust and repulsion,” the gentleman might look to himself to understand why he has these feelings. Heterosexual couples have been know to perform the same sexual acts as gays; do they disgust him, too? Is his repulsion innate, or has he been, as the South Pacific song puts it, “carefully taught"?
Missing from every homophobic letter printed is any careful, clearly reasoned explanation of why gays should be repressed. If it be argued that their sexual preference is not “natural,” the writers might like to to know that there are a few hundred other species which regularly practice homosexuality. And if the Bible be cited, we should note that that holy work also advocates slavery, sexism, mass slaughter, and a few other acts we no longer find acceptable.
I am not happy with the erotic acts of some couples, but do not think my personal feelings should be enacted into laws depriving them of their civil rights. It is time for all of us—yes, even for Harvard men and women—to leave behind us the bigotries that in the end cause damage to us all.
The Yale continuum
I am grateful to the Yale Alumni Magazine for publishing George Chauncey’s article. It was moving for me to see how my own experiences at Yale were part of a historical continuum.
During my undergraduate years, a roommate once accused me of being “the most effeminate person he'd ever met,” then proceeded to punch me. Fortunately, I had an understanding college master and was able to move away from this poor sod. I was not surprised when a friend later told me that my assailant made sexual overtures to him. And that, folks, is why it’s important for gays to come out on campus, so people like my former roommate can have positive role models and stop taking out their self-loathing on others.
Lastly, I can’t help but note how many of the critics of Chauncey’s article ruminated about how Yale might be affected financially by the article’s publication. Yes, by all means, let’s forget issues of humanity, free speech, and social justice. What do they matter, when there’s lucre at stake?
An historic historian
While I read and enjoyed the “Gay Ivy” story, I was surprised and distressed that it totally overlooked the role of my roommate, Martin B. Duberman '52, as a major, respected contributor to the current status of the movement. Martin is a recognized historian, author, playwright, and teacher. His 1991 memoir, Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey, deals with his life at Yale (when he was a scholar of the house and fine roommate). He was also a member of the Yale faculty. I am surprised that Mr. Chauncey was able to overlook him.
I should note that I never “climbed into his bed” either for warmth or perspective.
Connecting the dots
I was struck by the irony of the article “Politics and Maggots” appearing in the same issue as the July/August 2009 cover story (and accompanying personal accounts) “Why They Call Yale the ‘Gay Ivy.’” The featured cover articles predictably give a completely uncritical treatment of the flowering of open homosexuality and lesbianism at Yale. The brief “Politics and Maggots” article, meanwhile, compares gay marriage and abortion to “pus, maggots, vomit, feces, [and] rotten food” in terms of human reactions.
Now, of course, neither the Yale Alumni Magazine editors who included the “Politics and Maggots” article nor the authors of the study covered in that article (“Conservatives Are More Easily Disgusted Than Liberals” by Yoel Inbar, David A. Pizarro, and Paul Bloom) by any means intended to validate that comparison. Rather, the conclusion of the study was that political conservatism—particularly on these two issues—was tied to a higher score on a so-called “Disgust Sensitivity Scale.” This was presumably an attempt to explain away unappealing political opinions as merely the reflection of unthinking, indeed primitive, gut reactions.
But permit me to connect the dots. May a reader not regard as logical the conclusion that one’s revulsion to dismembering human offspring in the womb (“abortion,” in more polite circles) would correspond to one’s unwillingness to support the practice? And conversely, that desensitization to such dismemberment would correlate with greater tolerance of the practice? Along the same lines, is it not logical that feelings of revulsion to the uniting of excretory and oral functions (“homosexual activity,” in more polite circles) would correspond to a greater unwillingness to bestow legal sanction upon such acts? And conversely, that desensitization to such conduct would correlate with a greater tolerance of such activity?
In short, the study in “Politics and Maggots” may not tell us any more than common sense already would suggest. But by tying human reaction to gay marriage or abortion to human reaction to smelling putrid food, the “Politics and Maggots” article inadvertently raises the question, in a highly politically incorrect context, “Do we really want to progress beyond our healthy reaction to unhealthy things?”
Opening a dialogue
It was very refreshing to read the issue dealing with gay life at Yale. As an undergraduate in the late sixties and early seventies, my days were filled with self-loathing, anger at those who continuously made homophobic comments, and frustration. I had a few gay friends, and getting together with them at Gay Alliance at Yale functions every few weeks provided a much needed respite.
Because of the articles I have decided to contact a few of my former classmates to engage in a dialogue regarding gay life during those days. So far, the responses (all of them from straight friends) have been positive. I hope this continues.
Thank you for this wonderful and historical article. As a gay man wholearned so much about who I was and how to be myself in the world during my years in New Haven, it moves me deeply that the Yale Alumni Magazine has recognized in such a public and significant manner the contribution gay people have made to the life of the university. I’m prouder of being a Yalie now than I have ever been.
Another personal memoir
As someone who struggled with same-sex desires throughout my college years, I found your articles on being gay at Yale very interesting.
In the 1960s, my Yale friends rejected me when I told them of my struggles. After graduation, I was involved in the gay liberation movement in San Francisco for several years and was extremely promiscuous. In 1970, I became an evangelical Christian. I wanted very much to believe that homosexual behavior was endorsed by the Bible, but I knew this position was intellectually dishonest. Had I not changed my behavior, I almost certainly would have died from AIDS in the early 1980s.
I am amazed and disappointed to see the emphasis that the July/August issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine gave to covering the subject of gays at Yale. Realizing that times have changed and the closet door is no longer closed, in my opinion, this type of publicity does Yale University more harm than good. It blows the issue out of proportion.
Seeing this cover is bound to encourage a greater percentage of gays to apply to Yale while at the same time discourage more straight students from applying. Isn’t there a real danger of this happening with the admissions office having little control?
Also, I wonder how many Yale alumni, especially the older ones, will be turned off when they see this issue of the magazine. Is this the kind of news that will help increase the endowment fund? I doubt it.
I give an “F” grade to the editors of the Yale Alumni Magazine. The subject should have been treated in the right balance.
Past & present
Hearty congratulations for your cover stories of being gay at Yale. As a member of the Class of 1959 I accepted myself as a homosexual my sophomore year when I met my first lover while we were both heeling the News. As undergraduates we lived in separate colleges so our visits were “overnights” in each other’s rooms, but of course we had to keep our relationship secret from our roommates and classmates. We met very few like-minded classmates, even though we belonged to the same fraternity. We visited the few gay bars then in New Haven and drove down to New York to partake of its gay bar scene. Upon graduation we roomed together for my one year in law school and remained friends until his untimely death in 1989.
In 1965 while a graduate student at Harvard I met my life partner, Yale '62, and after 39 years together we were legally married in Massachusetts, just in time for us to return as “the class newlyweds” at my 45th reunion. At my recent 50th reunion I found a warm welcome from my classmates who were disappointed that my partner was unable to accompany me because he is the primary caregiver for his 97-year-old mother, who has lived with us for the past 12 years.
As for the online comments following the articles, I was deeply disturbed by the hostility expressed by so many of my generation of graduates. To them I would make the following observations: regardless of how you may feel toward gays and lesbians, particularly those of us who are fellow Yalies, we are American citizens entitled to the same protections of the U.S. Constitution as you enjoy, including the civil right of marriage. We are also fellow members of the human race entitled to live our lives as we choose, so long as we bring no harm to others. Yale is simply reflecting the world of 2009, not that of 1959.
Another personal memoir
I read your recent cover article about queer life at Yale with a bit of shock. You see, my own personal experience there as an undergraduate in the late nineties was very different from the rosy picture of Yale as some sort of post-discrimination mecca. When I was a student, Yale was still a place where a queer student could be physically threatened over their sexuality by classmates and roommates. It was still a place where appealing to your dean would not guarantee safety or justice.
I was striving to put my indignation into words, and then realized that was completely unnecessary. Just reading the vituperative online responses from other Yale alumni has more than made my point: Homophobia and discrimination are still alive and kicking at Yale College, and among her far-flung alums.
I am usually an avid and faithful reader of the Yale Alumni Magazine. Upon arriving at my mailbox each quarter, it supercedes all other mail, refreshing my memories of the culture, accomplishments, and goings-on at Yale, for which I am usually grateful. When my magazine arrived on July 17, I was horrified and embarrassed. To even realize that my postal deliverer had seen the cover was in itself a shock!
During my Yale years (1956–1960) I was never aware of gays or of gay behavior, whatever that may be. “Gay” was not in my vocabulary. In fact, I dislike labels. Sexual preference, to me, is a personal matter in the secular world, and is not suitable for thrusting it on another, and worse, to vilify a reader, such as me, who does not subscribe to that culture. In the Judeo-Christian world, and as expressed in our Bible, man-man and woman-woman sexual relationships are unhealthy, un-natural and non-procreative.
Thinking back to those undergraduate years, I remember classmates, friends, professors and others who may have been gay. But, gay or straight, they were my classmates, friends, professors and others, and I will always accept and respect them for the persons they were, and not for their closets of refuge or of emergence.
While I sincerely admire and appreciate Professor Chauncey’s writing style and research/educational value in the article “Gay at Yale,” I find the presentation, headline, and some of the content to be offensive, abhorrent, repugnant, nauseating, and violative of certain mores, values, and standards that have influenced my life—not entirely for what is said, but for the manner in which it is presented. Okay, gays were and are at Yale. Okay, football players posed with their hand on another’s knee, and by the 1980s kept their hands to their selves. That is a change in posing styles perhaps influenced by changing socially acceptable behavior, not just at Yale, but nationwide.
In my opinion, it is simply wrong to glorify such a culture, and to present it (and trumpet it to my neighborhood) as a Yale phenomonon. “Why They Call Yale the ‘Gay Ivy’” is saying that Yale is for gays; other Ivy League schools are for straights. Baloney!
I am grateful that my years of service on Yale’s Alumni Schools Committee are behind me. With respect to recruiting, Yale may have found an un-even spot on the playing field with the other Ivies and major universities.
Diversity = divisiveness?
I must say your cover story on Yale as the “Gay Ivy” is hardly the way I’d like to think of my college Alma Mater. The artice takes up 16 pages, surely the longest single feature article in recent memory. And for what purpose?
Need we be continually bombarded by such celebrations of homosexuality? Does such blatant exposure of an aberrant life style really improve tolerance or understanding, or does it simply increase alienation? The continuing drumbeat of the forms of “diversity” on our campuses and in our culture can only lead to growing divisiveness in our society. I’m afraid the founding principle of E Pluribus Unum has been co-opted in the process.
And of course publication of such an in-your-face article is hardly likely to stimulate alumni giving.
The “good old days”
With heavy heart I write this notice to sever all my connections with my beloved Alma Mater. For nearly seventy years I have supported her verbally and with my small annual gifts. I can do so no longer, for she is no longer the honorable center of learning from which I proudly received my theological education. Your recent in-your-face feature, “Why They Call Yale the ‘Gay Ivy,’” is the final straw that broken the back of this Campellite's loyalty to his treasured university.
Human sexuality is without doubt a gift from the Creator, but the creature He has made is not constrained to make tawdry display of itself or to flaunt its various expressions publicly. In a nation that apparently makes much of the “right to privacy” why cannot the matter of sex be contained privately? In the “good old days” of the greatest master teachers like Niebuhr, Bainton, and Calhoun, there were surely persons of variant sexual behaviors, but there was no public notice of it. Gay was just another word in the dictionary, and I never heard anyone referred to as “queer.”
So, as I recognize how far the moral drift has taken western culture I raise my simple protest to my dear Alma Mater by requesting that my name be dropped from the mailing list. I will miss passing on what I once regarded as a publication worthy of sharing with friends. I wish we could have parted with such a fraternal blessing as a 94-year veteran might have bestowed.
Another personal memoir
When I entered Yale in 1958 I fell in love, but in that environment was too afraid to let anyone know how I felt, terrified that if it were found out I was homosexual I would be expelled. I remember sitting on a window ledge with my legs hanging out, seriously moving toward suicide. I was saved by another student.
In my junior year I met in New York a boy from Princeton who used to ride hours on the trains to be with me. I would never “cruise” at Yale nor he at Princeton. By then I had moved off campus —a devastating and lonely place.
How I envy today’s students! I remember two who did slip out of windows.
The Yale of my day
Well folks, I suppose it’s advancing (no, advanced!) age that makes me feel so out of on-campus trends and happenings of today. When I and hundreds of other tired veterans of WWII were admitted to Yale for spring term of 1946, we didn’t skip classes. We did our homework, then really worked to “make the team” in sports. On weekends many or most of us would have a roaring ball at Mory’s, Elmo, Kaysey's, or anyplace with a roof and a bar. And when we held hands, if was with a girl.
How the Yale of those days has changed! We respected and were proud of our university, and took on New Haven “townies” and all others who said the wrong things. I and three pals even got to ride in the New Haven paddy wagon on the way to spending a night in the New Haven slammer.
Ours is a free country, and all Americans can do whatever they please and express themselves in any manner not unlawful, so I cannot fault those who mate with others of the same sex. However, my firm belief that sex is the most beautiful expression of love between a man and a woman would set me apart from many Yalies of today.
The 16 pages of the July/August issue devoted to celebrating Yale’s gay students, faculty, and alumni were the ultimate in boredom. Why must gays feel compelled to broadcast their sexual preferences and celebrate “gay pride” months? Civilized heterosexuals find sex a private matter, not a subject for discussion with anybody but intimate friends. Gays, however, apparently feel compelled to command society’s attention to their sexual activity by screaming it from the rooftops. Is this not the ultimate in narcissism? The anything-to-be-noticed, “look at me” pathology of the obsessed?
Most don’t give a hoot what other consenting adults do for sex, or with whom. But we prefer they keep it to themselves and stop boring us and misleading our children with their pathologically incessant confabulation concerning their exploits.
Given its front-page emphasis, one must assume the Yale Alumni Magazine editors expect readers to share their obvious “pride” that Yale has become known for its gay promotion. The reaction of myself and colleagues I have contacted is quite the opposite—more one of disgust.
To the point
Sixteen pages plus the cover on gays at Yale. One page on athletics.
Living without fear
While I appreciate the Yale Alumni Magazine devoting an entire issue to Yale’s gay history, I found Ari Shapiro’s article “Banality as a Gift” to be at best wildly naïve and at worst immensely selfish. Shapiro thanks the innumerable activists who have come before him, then concludes that he has “the privilege not to be an activist.” Indeed, his use of the word “privilege” is apt. It cannot be understated that a Caucasian, male, award-winning journalist with a Yale education is the very definition of privilege. I don’t seek to undermine Shapiro’s accomplishments or to imply that he is somehow undeserving of personal success and happiness, but I do think that he has entirely missed the point of activism.
Activism should be motivated by an ethical sense of what is right, not self-interest or personal gain. Simply because Shapiro is privileged enough to be able to live a life without fear, where he can deftly avoid “politically fraught discussions” does not mean that every homosexual person resides in a similarly idyllic paradise of open-armed acceptance. By simply turning the page (or clicking another link on the website), this reader found several examples of the typical homophobic vitriol with which we are confronted on a regular basis: Mitchell Reich’s article cites two such instances, and the comments section on the Yale Alumni Magazine website is littered with declarations of visceral disgust and threats to cut off future donations to Yale for merely printing these stories.
All right! Let’s go home and decoupage!
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to say that I, too, am white, male, and dragging several Yale degrees behind my name. This means that I am also “privileged.” But it doesn’t mean that I’m going to don my banal blinders and retreat into deluded complacency. Shapiro would do well to recognize that there are many who don’t share his circumstances or environs, many who cannot simply avoid tense political discussions, harassment, or threats of violence—for their very existence and happiness constitute an inherently political act, and a dangerous one at that. Those are the people who need activism (and, really, considering Shapiro’s marriage was annulled by the state of California, it might be a little premature to call it a day). Or, put simply: you don’t only donate to food banks when you’re hungry; you donate precisely when you aren’t, when you have extra food to give.
Shapiro would do well to return “the gift of banality,” at least until everyone can unwrap it.
Not in Yale’s interests
We can all respect the diversity at Yale and be pleased that everyone feels a welcoming environment. At the same time, parading the gay life and having Yale be known as the “Gay Ivy” is not, to put it as politely as possible, in the best interests of the university.
Telling it like it is
As graduates of the Divinity School, we were both impressed and moved by the excellent coverage of the “Gay Ivy” in the July/August issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. The lead article and individual memoirs helped us to understand the many facets, complicated history, and inner dynamics of being gay at Yale and in this culture.
There were a few out-of-the-closet gay men in the student body of the Divinity School while we were there from 1949 to 1952. They were accepted and appreciated for who they were. As a married couple, we have been strongly supportive of gay rights in the church over the years. I (Francis) worked on a small ad hoc committee in our United Church of Christ association in Northern California, to support the ordination of Bill Johnson. In the mid-1980s, he was the first out-of-the-closet gay person to be ordained by a mainline Protestant denomination. Virginia and I participated in several Gay Pride parades with friends in our congregation from St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, San Francisco. St. Aidan’s is about 15 percent lesbian/gay.
That Yale hired George Chauncey to teach a lesbian and gay history course every fall is extraordinary, and to us, mind-boggling. Your issue helps many of us straight folks to become more deeply aware of the pain and rejection lesbians and gays have experienced in our culture over the years, infected as it is by the virus of homophobia. Thank you for telling it like it is.
Being an old man, I skipped the 14 or 15 pages in your last issue entitled “Gay at Yale.” I generally never paid much attention to the whole matter—even with the recent developments. But then I remembered a friend, George Gundelfinger. He sent me an awful lot of mail.
When his creations reached us, the waste receptacles in the post office filled to overflowing. But I read the whole article and didn’t find one mention of him or his work. I remember his “fight song”—the pen is mightier than the sword—with no space between pen & is.
I am sorry my first (only) contribution is not as profound as most of those published. But it is a Yale memory and I felt I’d like to share it.
From the 1920s to the 1960s, George F. Gundelfinger '06, '09PhD, kept up a one-sided correspondence with the Yale student body, urging Yale men to adopt his plan to “abolish debauchery” by following an explicitly described program of self-gratification. His mailings led to two federal obscenity convictions, and he served his time in a psychiatric facility for federal prisoners.—Eds.
“There goes the neighborhood!”
When I read the articles about Yale, the gay university, my first thought was “there goes the neighborhood!”
Upon reading the recent article on Yale as the “Gay Ivy,” I have become concerned about the future of our university. Lux et Veritas, light and truth, is the essence of our great alma mater. Yale’s pursuit of truth rests upon the four pillars of reason, evidence, logic, and precedent. Within this structure, debate flourishes, knowledge is gained, and humanity benefits.
I fear that a school marked as the “Gay Ivy” will become unable to pursue lux et veritas. Only the single plinth of Personal Identity will remain, supporting a bust of Individual Truth. When Identity is the standard, disagreement is intolerable. Assent must be given to the truth (that only the Individual can know!). Dissent is now a personal attack, a form of oppression. The correct answer is now unimportant. The struggle, the narrative, the personal journey is now supreme.
Unable to reconcile this torrent of conflicting personal truths, the only approach will be a radical relativism. This will mark the end of learning and the end of Yale.
The dawn of AIDS
I was at Yale during the early 1980s and I remember hearing about people in the Health Services who had turned black and purple, and were very weak, and dying. And no one knew why. The poor souls. Gradually we learned that this disease was probably transferred by homosexual activity or intravenous drug use. We thought they would quarantine those stricken, since it threatened the blood supply, and we thought the gay community would promote a celibate lifestyle since it was a question of life and death. But neither happened.
Change of heart
I was very unhappy when my daughter chose to follow her mother to Harvard rather than in my path. After reading the articles in the current issue, I am very pleased with her decision. You opened my eyes, and I do not like what I saw.
Turning in their graves
To put it mildly, I was aghast when I first saw the cover of the July/August Yale Alumni Magazine. I have always been proud to say that I am a Yale graduate; also, my brother and father were alumni. Classes of '14 & '43. Our family took pride in the Yale tradition. My father and older brother would turn over in their graves to learn that Yale is being called the “Gay Ivy.” While it may be true, why does your magazine need to publicize it on the front cover? Certainly, this kind of advertising will attract more gay and lesbian students, where one day the straight students may become a minority.
I try to be open minded and acknowledge that gay people were born to be homosexual but must be considered deviant from the human norm. I concede that gays have many characteristics that are admirable. Their friendly personality, high intelligence, and talents in the arts are clearly evident. But it upsets me, however, to have them display their homosexuality publicly, as for example, two men holding hands as they walk down the street. Also, the Biblical definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. The term “marriage” should be reserved for the union of a husband and wife. At the same time gay people should have the benefit of civil unions; but let’s not call it “marriage.”
I will not belabor my feelings and position further, only to say why your magazine need to advertise and likely attract more gays to matriculate at Yale.
Not like it used to be
It’s both comforting and distressing to learn that Yale is best in something. We’re not first place in the Ivy League in football, basketball, baseball, or beating Harvard on the Thames; but in Gay Activism; truly Diversified, and Grand!
From “For God, for Country, and for Yale” we have lost our way like the Whiff’s lambs. We have lost the God of Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles, and Jonathan Edwards; we have lost the Country of the Rotunda heroes inscribed in gold at Woolsey, and the rumbles of places across the great Commons Fascia that jar the senses—Argonne, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Somme -- we have lost the noble R.O.T.C., not welcomed by enlightened faculty anymore; and now we lose Yale to an abhorrent present with forebodings of a much more horrible future, surely Diversified, and Grand, but one where Darkness and Ambiguity replace Lux et Veritas.
On what grounds?
It bothers me that Prof. Chauncey quoted Julie V. Iovine, who once claimed that 1/4 of the students at Yale were gay or lesbian when there has never been any objective support for the claim. More disturbing is the admission that the claim rings true when there is no evidence for it. Published studies suggest that the population as a whole has a homosexual component of perhaps 3%. Why would a population at Yale be eight times as gay as the high schools the students were selected from, particularly when no one involved in the selection process is expressing a preference either way on the parameter? The suggestion that drama students turn out to be gay because the drama school attracts students who are preparing for an unconventional lifestyle seems lame and a fallback on stereotypes in place of data or theory.
When Prof. Chauncey refers to the diaries of alumni who mention that they slept with another student, he allows for the possibility that the students may not have been having sex but were expressing affection for each other. It occurs to me that in the late 1800s the dorms may have been colder than the proverbial witch’s teat, leading students to sleep together, or maybe the students drank away the evening and rather than get caught drunk they just slept over. Prof. Thomas F. Gould used to tell us that “sleeping together” was universally in all languages a euphemism for having sex, so it would not surprise me if people who wrote in their diary they had slept together were referring to having had sex. To say that the students were being affectionate seems to me to be a retreat from statements made on a website maintained by Yale where the diaries are cited as proof that various generous alumni were gay. It seems to me that an effort was made here to feather the impact of the diaries. Once upon a time we were simply informed that the people who were most generous to Yale had been outed; now we are being told they were affectionate and less inhibited. More like, you know, like “us.”
The article struck me more as an effort at mythography than history. The author traces a rise of anti-gay feeling and discrimination from the turn of the twentieth century to the worst old days in the fifties or early sixties, and then attempts to assure the reader that there has been a return to more sane and charitable ways. One wonders if this was simply an effort to avoid discussion of a long history in the West which has varied from era to era in order to present anti-gay sentiment merely as the bugaboo of people most of us already have low opinions of, e.g. Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The reference to old football photographs where men touch each other ought to be discussed in terms of the evolving rules of football. In the early years linesmen were allowed to link arms and form chains, so it is not surprising that their team photos present a group accustomed to linking together. The biblical condemnation of homosexuality surely has something to do with anti-gay sentiment and does not fit into the timeline suggested. Anti-gay discrimination is not simply a recent creation of the American right wing.
The sentiments expressed in the related personal mini-memoirs to the effect that their authors do not feel the need to be activists suggests that the future of gay friendliness is very much in doubt.
May I in closing ask who decided that “queer” was a politically correct word, and when that term ceased being offensive? Seriously, I’d like to know. Why does one word become utterly unacceptable, e.g. “faggot,” when another suggesting gay people have something wrong in the head maybe, i.e. “queer,” emerges as perfectly fine in the appropriate context?
Correct and courageous
I am so proud of Yale right now. More specifically, I’m proud of the Yale Alumni Magazine for making “Why They Call Yale the ‘Gay Ivy’” its cover story. The editors no doubt anticipated the inevitable “cancel my subscription” responses, even though over twenty years have passed since President Schmidt’s clumsy attempt at damage control following the notorious Wall Street Journal article. The best part of that article, incidentally, was when Julie Iovine asked Sarah Cohen how she felt about the controversy surrounding the spoof “Bestiality Awareness Days” fliers that a student had posted to protest GLAD publicity. Iovine, who may be the most irony deficient woman in America since Margaret Dumont, failed to note the humor in Cohen’s flippant “so what’s wrong with a little bestiality?” retort.
Chauncey’s depiction of the “gay eighties” at Yale is just as I recall them. It truly was a “people power” revolution, won not so much by marches and picketing, but by individuals gently coaxing each other out of the closet. One by one, we came out to our straight roommates, and then gradually to other friends, professors, and deans, and in so doing, we enlightened our straight peers by being just as unpredictable, neurotic, homesick, creative, and occasionally courageous as they were. Perhaps some of those alumni who now feel homorepelled by the article unknowningly shared rooms or Mory’s cups with dear friends who were also closeted gay men. For them, it was not possible to share fully in those bright college years that the rest of us so fondly recall.
Thank you again for your editorial courage.
Prof. George Chauncey underestimates the homophobia of the 1950s, when it was Harvard, sneeringly, that was thought a haven of “fairies.” It is true that “in the '40s and '50s, when students could still choose their residential college, Jonathan Edwards developed a gay reputation.” But this was not a matter of positive choice, certainly not because “bolder students even threw all-gay parties in their rooms.”
JE got its reputation during World War II, when much of the university was taken over by the military and that college was uniquely reserved for civilian students who were “4F,” or rejected by the draft. The most notorious reason for such rejection was homosexuality, and the resulting notoriety attached to JE for years.
It was reputed that in the spring of 1952 not a single member of our class applied to live in it, while those who were forced to live in JE earned a mixture of sympathy and derision. The situation contributed heavily to the fact that Yale, well before Harvard, ended the practice of allowing choice in the placement of upperclassmen in the colleges or houses.
Okay, already! After reading “Why They Call Yale the Gay Ivy,” I’ve decided to come out of the closet. To the entire world I now declare myself a flaming homophobe. Actually, let me take that back: the term is misleading.
Fear of gays is not my problem, unless one is much larger than me and has notions. (Some of my best friends, etc.) Disgust or repulsion comes closer (homorepello?), involving something deep and visceral and it is not directed at gays as such but their amorous activity. (My mother had a milder view: “It seems so inconvenient.”)
In “Politics and Maggots,” I discover that my being a conservative has something to do with that. Conservatives, so the article goes, are much more likely to experience disgust regarding all kinds of things that liberals have no problems with. Count me in. For sure, I would be very uncomfortable being a Yalie now as I am sure most of my former classmates would be.
Gays & God
Today I read “Why They Call Yale the ‘Gay Ivy,’” and today the Episcopal Church voted for baptismal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I am in awe.
I entered Yale Divinity School in 1979, but the gay group at the div school had shut down the spring before I arrived. So I worked with three closeted new friends—one sardonic, one frightened and one ambivalent—to set up the Gay/Straight Coalition. As the only openly gay person at the div school my first year was exhausting—mostly from just feeling a little on display.
So gratitude barely begins to describe my feelings when David Wertheimer and David Norgard showed up the next year as openly gay seminarians overflowing with organizing skills.
Today Dave Norgard, who founded Oasis Ministries in New Jersey, is an openly gay, married priest in Los Angeles and incoming president of the Episcopal Integrity LGBT group, and David Wertheimer, who headed up the Anti-Violence Project for many years, serves as a senior program officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. After more than two decades in the national offices of the United Methodist Church, I am the director of religion, faith and values for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
So, what’s up with all of these gay div school grads?
An article about being gay at Yale rightly turns to the late, John Boswell, but an overlooked icon is the late Letty Russell who spent three decades teaching at the Div School while living and collaborating with her partner, Shannon Clarkson, and helping LGBT and other students survive the homophobia, heterosexism, sexism and racism of religion. Letty’s specialty was finding the tools within religion to dismantle its own traditions of oppression. In her later years, Letty taught queer theology classes and continued opening doors for students of all diversities—helped them survive, thrive and give back, despite what had been dished out.
So, what’s up with gays and God?
In my case, as is true for too many, the suicidal despair that came with my early recognition of wanting to love another woman brought me to my knees. Only luck and the ability to pass allowed me to get out of Nebraska intact. From my knees I stood up to recognize an element of the divine in my own reality and divine engagement in the tragicomedy of life itself.
Sadly, there will be diatribes against this article, and suicidal despair still results from such attacks. But despite fundamentalists missing all the punch lines of biblical melodrama and irony the div school and Yale will still have a gay life. Why? Because every school, every seminary, every church and every culture has a gay life.
Today, we are moving beyond the adolescent whispers about the minister being “light in the loafers,” accompanied by the requisite rolling of the eyes and raised eyebrows—or unspoken turning away. We are letting our young people know that we have always known there are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the world, only now we are starting to be honest about it. We are letting some of us live our lives as loving, contributing, and often, very religious people.
Congratulations to the Episcopal Church, congratulations to the Yale Alumni Magazine, congratulations to the Yale Divinity School, and may we all cherish the wonderfully queer world over which God declared, “It is good!”
Out of fashion
It would seem that refraining from homosexual behavior has gone the way of refraining from work on the Sabbath.
Count me out
Do not even think of sending me another issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine or expect me to send further contributions to Yale University. My testamentary gift to Yale will be eliminated.
The July/August 2009 cover of our alumni magazine is unexceptably poor. My advice: Get Ms. Lassila out of any position of editorial control.
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