Denying a proposal to move the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale into the History Department, the University announced Wednesday during a campus visit by the program’s namesake that LKI will remain in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.
In a meeting with Kramer ’57, History Department chairman Paul Freedman declined to move LKI, a move which Kramer said would add more gay history into a program that he believes focuses too predominately on gay theory. But Freedman unveiled plans for the History Department, in conjunction with other departments, to hold a major LKI-sponsored conference next year focusing on 19th century sexuality.
“At least it’s a step,” Kramer said in an interview after the meeting. “It may not be enough, but it’s a lot more than I had yesterday.”
But Kramer sharply criticized the administration for its lack of responsiveness to his concerns regarding LKI later Wednesday afternoon at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea. The prominent AIDS activist, novelist and playwright said he remains frustrated with the University because he said officials have ignored his concerns about the program’s academic direction.
“We’ve come too far in the last five years to be treated so shabbily by the bureaucracy of this college,” Kramer, who is HIV positive, said at the tea. “I haven’t got three years here and there to piss away.”
But Assistant Provost Emily Bakemeier said the Provost’s Office always listens to Kramer’s concerns.
“[Deputy Provost Charles Long] and I both had correspondence with Larry,” Bakemeier said. “We may not have responded in the way he necessarily wanted to hear.”
The Provost’s Office has been working closely with Freedman and LKI executive coordinator Jonathan D. Katz to develop a model to incorporate more historical study in LKI. Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said the administration will work with Kramer to address his concerns about the program.
“Working with dedicated staff and faculty in the Provost’s Office and several departments, we can develop a program … of which we can all be proud,” Hamilton said.
Bakemeier said the planned conference would be an opportunity for scholars to discuss gay history.
“Jonathan Katz will work with the History and American Studies departments to put together a conference of scholars who will have a great discussion about the issues at hand,” Bakemeier said. “It’s in its very nascent conceptual phases … I think it’ll provide a wonderful venue to discuss yet another aspect of gay studies.”
Freedman said the issues concerning the direction of LKI are programmatic, not structural.
“We can do more with history, get involved with a more historical approach, with the structure as it stands,” Freedman said.
At one point during the tea, Kramer, in defense of his opinion that studying and teaching gay history is more important than gay theory, said Yale should investigate the sexual orientations of historical figures such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Berkeley College Master John Rogers then chimed in and challenged Kramer to teach his own course at Yale on “the kind of history” that Kramer thinks is important.
“I’m very flattered,” Kramer responded. “I would love to do it. I simply don’t have enough time left to honor your very noble request.”
Katz said he thinks much of the tension between Yale and Kramer was relieved during Kramer’s campus visit Wednesday.
“The wound was aired, and that’s the path to healing,” Katz said. “I felt this was a positive exchange.”
In 2001, after four years of contentious negotiations with University officials, Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, donated $1 million to endow LKI for five years. The program sponsors visiting professors, lectures, conferences and community-building activities for the lesbian and gay community at Yale.