Just three years after a gay and lesbian studies program was created in his honor, Larry Kramer ’57 is scheduled to meet with History Department chair Paul Freedman November 10 to discuss moving the program, which he said emphasizes gay theory over its intended focus of gay history, into the History Department.
The Larry Kramer Initiative, which sponsors lectures, conferences and community building activities for the lesbian and gay community at Yale, was founded in April 2001 with a $1 million donation from Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49. Larry Kramer, a playwright, novelist and AIDS activist, said his lawyer, Bill Zabel, believes Yale has abrogated the spirit of its agreement by directing the focus of LKI to gay theory while marginalizing gay history.
“I’m willing to compromise if they don’t change it to the history program, but I’m not going to accept less than 50 percent gay history, 50 percent gay theory/gender studies,” Kramer said in an interview Monday.
History Department chair Paul Freedman said although he looks forward to hearing Kramer’s ideas for the future of LKI, he does not have authority over the issue.
“Ideally I’d like to see Larry Kramer satisfied and also have an arrangement that allowed colleagues in all departments and programs interested in the issue he is supporting be encouraged to pursue their teaching and research,” Freedman wrote in an e-mail.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the program’s administrative location — which he thinks will have no bearing on its programming — is not the issue.
“Personally I would like to see a program that’s very broad in its intellectual reach,” Salovey said. “It should have an interdisciplinary orientation.”
But Kramer said he would prefer a move to the History Department. Until the University hired professor Joanne Meyerowitz in 2003, Kramer said there were no historians on the faculty board of LKI, which in conjunction with an external board determines its programming. Yet the hire did not pacify Kramer, because Meyerowitz — who teaches a course on the history of sexuality in the United States — is a historian of sexuality, he said.
“98 percent of [LKI] is devoted for gender studies, queer theory,” Kramer said. “I consider gender studies and queer theory to be almost irrelevant considering the mess gay people are in today.”
LKI Executive Coordinator Jonathan Katz said he thinks Kramer’s concerns are the result of a misunderstanding that will be cleared up in November. Katz said there is “no distinction” between the current direction of the program and Kramer’s vision for it.
“I have no doubt that when we’re able to clear up the misunderstanding, it will become clear that the doing of history takes place in a lot of departments, not just the History Department,” Katz said. “What I am doing is an assuredly historical program.”
Katz also said he was concerned that under Kramer’s suggested move, LKI could fall into an “unsympathetic” department. The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, of which LKI is a part, has been very supportive of the program, Katz said.
“I want to make sure that [LKI] is not dependent on the kindness of strangers,” he said. “I don’t know if future [history] chairs will be sympathetic to us.”
But Kramer said he thinks the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department poses a greater threat to the integrity of LKI.
Kramer said he has long expressed his dissatisfaction with LKI’s programming to Yale administrators such as Deputy Provost Charles Long, who have not responded to his complaints. Kramer, who is still recovering from a liver transplant he received in 2001, said his condition prevented him from partaking in many of LKI’s initial programmatic decisions.
Katz, who said he and Kramer communicated about the program on a regular basis during its initial stages and continue to do so, said neither he nor the board is bound by Kramer’s opinions.
“There’s a central issue of academic autonomy,” Katz said. “Donors don’t have the power to manage an academic program. The funding was meant to be central, but it wasn’t meant to be the only source.”
Although Kramer has not yet threatened to sue the University if it does not address his concerns, he said he wants the administration to know that he is “not afraid” of pursuing such an action.