A change in direction for LKI?

To the Editor:

James Kirchick’s “Michael Jackson is not the right focus for LKI” column (9/28), preceded by your paper’s own editorial the day before (“Value of reflecting on the Man in the Mirror,” 9/27), could not have pleased LKI’s founder’s heart any more than they did. Ironically, and I believe truly as an omen, James’ piece coincided with an extraordinary two-hour meeting I had with deans Peter Salovey and Joe Gordon about much that both those pieces address.

It is no secret that for some time I have been most concerned by the direction the Larry Kramer Initiative is taking. I think it is not so much the wrong direction, as James suggests, as it is a direction too much one thing and not enough of what LKI was founded for — the exploration of and reclaiming of gay people’s history since the beginning of America. For instance, a book will be published in January that makes a most convincing argument that Abraham Lincoln was gay his entire life. (“The Intimate Lincoln” by C.A. Tripp, Free Press/Simon and Schuster.) Can you not imagine what this will do to things? That is what I mean about reclaiming gay history for all of us. Gay people have no history of note, history that can change our place in society and give us a heritage, a place in the world, and one, for the most part, to be proud of. This is not accomplished by gender studies. Or histories of sexuality. What I am talking about is done for almost every other group of people at Yale except gays. We desperately need our history out there and that is why I founded LKI. And why I wanted it at Yale. I tried to commit suicide in Lawrence Hall my freshman year because of my difficulties with my own homosexuality, of not knowing who I was and where I belonged in this world.

I repeat: I take history to mean history and not gender studies, which seems to have swamped LKI’s time more or less exclusively. I repeat: I believe that gay studies and gender studies are two very distinct subjects and that while both deserve time, this has not been happening in fair proportions. There have been many academic and bureaucratic knots that have caused much of this to happen, not the least of which is LKI’s misplacement in the gender studies department rather than the history department where we rightly belong. (I totally support LKI’s superb director, Jonathan Katz, and acknowledge his great and patient skill for being able to wade through all of this without killing someone, which I fear I might have done.)

I cannot tell you how moved I was with Peter Salovey and Joe Gordon. For the first time in LKI’s history since the unfortunate (for me, for LKI, for gay people at Yale) departure of former Provost Alison Richard, who helped to fashion LKI with me, and with whom, quite frankly I fell in love (after a very rocky beginning, also chronicled in your pages), I appear to have someone at Yale to talk to again. Alison and I had been in constant communication (she and her husband had dinner with me and my lover at our home only days before they left America). We had many plans, sadly aborted with her departure.

Since then, quite frankly, it has been Hell. A Ms. Hockfield did not respond in any way to any of my many e-mails and phone calls, (I wish gay people at MIT more luck with her), and her associate provosts simply did not take me seriously. Larry Kramer does not like not being taken seriously. Anyway, let it be known that until yesterday’s meeting with Peter and Joe, there have been many days when I seriously considered taking my name and what is left of my brother’s endowment money and departing from Yale. (I hasten to add that I do not consider this a “Bass issue” but a discrimination issue, a not-living-up-to-our-agreement issue. And on this I am backed up by legal counsel.) Yes, it came to that. Fortunately Peter and Joe, and an extraordinary woman in the development office, Donna Consolini, who heard what I was saying, and who has taken Alison’s place in my heart, convinced me that such rashness would get us nowhere in this discussion.

I am the guest at a Master’s Tea at Berkeley College on Nov. 20. I would ask that anyone who is interested in what I am talking about, particularly about transferring LKI to the history department, come. Yale should never forget that it was from the history department that the late great gay historian, John Boswell, held forth, and indeed LKI is formed from numerous earlier groups that John founded and nurtured. (I might add that on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. I shall also be talking at Cooper Union in New York under the sponsorship of NYU’s gay organizations, Broadway Cares-Equity Fights AIDS, and the Gill Foundation. My speech is tentatively entitled: “The Tragedy of Today’s Gays.”)

In closing I would like to quote from my play about the AIDS plague, “The Normal Heart”: “Bruce, did you know that it was an openly gay man who was as responsible as any man for winning the Second World War? His name was Alan Turing and he cracked the Germans’ Enigma code so the allies knew in advance what the Nazis were going to do and when the war was over he committed suicide he was so hounded for being gay. Why don’t they teach any of this in the schools? If they did, maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself and maybe you wouldn’t be so terrified of who you are. The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual. It’s all there, all through history, we’ve been there, but we have to claim it, and identify who was in it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all our creative contributions to this earth. And until we do that, we’re doomed. Being defined by our cocks is literally killing us …”

I rest my case. For the moment.

Larry Kramer

September 29

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