SCENE COVER | Beyond one in four

In the 1972 edition of Yale’s yearbook, articles were divided into categories beginning with letters.

The first topic for letter G: Gay Lib.

In a wry piece spanning four pages, an anonymous Yalie recounted his discovery of his homosexuality, describing his childhood disinterest in the female members of the Mickey Mouse Club and his anxiety about swimming camp.

“I knew that I had become everything that our Sex Education teacher had warned us about: A homosexual,” the angsty author writes. “No less, a homosexual with an enormous penchant for sexual gratification, a homosexual who wanted to surround himself with the most beautiful and accessible male population he could imagine.”

He added: “That’s why I applied to Yale.”

While Yale did not live up to the author’s standards — the University was a very different (read: closeted) place in the 1970s — change was on its way. By the ’80s, the Yale student body would rightfully become known for its abundance of gays, and Elis were quick to embrace the school’s title of the “Gay Ivy.” But Yale, as an institution, has lagged behind its students in embracing this label.

“At Yale, what we saw in the 1980s and through the early ’90s was a tremendous growth in the social acceptance of gay people on campus, of gay cultural life and of its visibility — and no comparable growth in institutional support for gay students and gay studies,” said George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89, a Yale history professor specializing in U.S. lesbian and gay history.

When it comes to providing for LGBT students, that institutional support has continued to lag all the way through the 21st century, some students and experts said.

Consider a rather unflattering review of Yale within the Advocate’s College Guide for LGBT Students, published in 2006. (The Advocate is the nation’s largest gay magazine.)

“Unlike the other Ivy League campuses listed,” the guide reads, “Yale University relies solely on out LGBT student leaders to push for the advancement of queer issues and to create a welcoming LGBT campus climate.”

The guide’s author, Shane Windmeyer, told the News last month that Yale only received a place in the book because of the “vibrant” LGBT population. When it comes to administrative services available at Yale, he said, “Yale has a long way to go in terms of its peer schools.” The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, has an entire building for its LGBT student center. And Princeton University’s president spoke at the unveiling of a new LGBT office inside its student center in 2006.

In contrast, Yale’s Queer Resource Center takes up two small rooms on 305 Crown St., where it has resided since 1981.

So, yes, Yale may be the “Gay Ivy” in the sense that there is an abundance of out gay students — particularly males — on campus. But whether Yale is the “Gay Ivy” on an institutional level is a different issue.

Yale has acknowledged that it was “a little bit behind the times” and now aims to leap ahead, said Maria Trumpler. Trumpler was hired by Yale to serve as special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ issues in 2006.

Trumpler’s hiring marked the beginning of a University effort to close the gap with its peer institutions. This January, Yale established an Office for LGBTQ Resources with a 20,000 dollar budget and Trumpler as its director. The word “office” exists in name only, however, as no physical space for it currently exists.

To understand how an institution known as the “Gay Ivy” finds itself behind some of its peer schools, look to Yale’s history.

‘CULTURAL AGGRESSORS’

In the summer of 1987, arriving on campus for her 10-year reunion, freelance writer Julie Iovine ’77 came to a shocking revelation about Yale: there were gay students. Lots of them.

After a few cursory interviews with Yalies, Iovine decided to share her discovery with the world. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Lipsticks and Lords: Yale’s New Look,” Iovine made her case, describing all she had uncovered, from the immense popularity of gay parties to the different social circles of lesbian undergrads.

“Suddenly Yale has a reputation as a gay school,” she wrote, as if the University’s good name had been besmirched.

And suddenly, by putting the words “gay” and “Yale” in the same sentence, Iovine brought about a media firestorm. In a response article titled “Is Yale now colored mauve,” the National Review declared that homosexuals at Yale had gone from victims to “cultural aggressors.”

Then-president Benno Schmidt was poised to save Yale’s reputation, sending a letter to 2,000 prominent alumni to debunk this myth, The New York Times reported.

“I know of no one except Ms. Iovine, here or outside the University, who considers Yale a ‘gay school,’ ” Schmidt wrote in the letter, according to the Times.

Iovine — and the world — thought she had discovered something new about Yale, but the large, openly gay community she described had been 10 years in the making. And while Schmidt’s response seemed purely reactionary to some, it was, in many ways, to be expected — Yale’s administration had traditionally taken a mixed stance toward its emerging gay community.

The gay community Iovine would have recalled from her time at Yale in the ’70s was largely closeted, prompting little-to-no administrative acknowledgement. Evan Wolfson ’78, founder of the organization Freedom to Marry, described his four years in New Haven: “Yale was very different from what it is today … There was very little open gay life. There was very little activism.”

But things changed — quickly.

With the onset of the ’80s, there was an explosion in the proportion of openly gay students on campus. But the administration and the students’ classmates did not receive their LGBT peers with wholly open arms.

“There was a clash of traditional Yale and this new wave of actively and openly gay students,” said Anna Wipfler ’09, a former LGBT Cooperative coordinator. Wipfler is researching the history of Yale’s LGBT campus organizations for her senior project.

After LGBT students encountered harassment on campus, Wipfler said they turned to the administration for support. Their argument: Latino and black students had been provided with deans and cultural centers many years earlier.

The administration did not grant the request for a dean. Instead, the students were afforded two small rooms at 305 Crown St. to call their own.

Despite this dead-end, LGBT Yalies went on to find other causes for which to lobby the administration. Their next step involved calling for the protection of sexual orientation under the University’s anti-discrimination policy, something the University of Pennsylvania had already enacted in 1979.

The Yale Corporation responded, sort of.

In 1982, the Corporation changed Yale’s antidiscrimination policy, saying Yale had a commitment to “respecting an individual’s attitudes on a variety of matters that are essentially personal in nature.” LGBT Yalies at the time had a sense of humor about what they considered a shortfall, Wipfler said, holding a dance called “Essentially Personal in Nature.”

So while the administration stalled, Yalies moved forward, rallying around the perceived lack of administrative support. All the while, Yale’s campus was becoming increasingly welcoming to gay students.

“Yale was known back then for being a gay-friendly school,” said Bruce Cohen ’83, a gay alum who produced the films “Milk” and “American Beauty.” “You got there, and you saw that there was a gay life. There were so many gay students, and that was just part of the social scene. It encouraged a lot of people — including myself — to come out during my years at Yale.”

Wipfler said the early ’80s marked a “critical mass” in the amount of gay students and gay activism on campus. Still, Yale’s gay-friendliness was not brought to the attention of the larger world until the publication of Iovine’s article in 1987.

Part of Iovine’s article asserted that one in four Yale students were gay, which one student claimed the University advertised in mailed materials to freshmen. Much of Schmidt’s letter was meant to assert the invalidity of this statement. Then-Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg also wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal to assure them this was not the case.

But Benno’s response did not go over as planned, and at a press conference, he was forced to answer what was wrong if Yale had a large proportion of gay students, according to Newsweek. In an article entitled “Have Gays Taken Over Yale?,” Newsweek Magazine chronicled the saga, explaining Schmidt’s defense of his defense that Yale was not “a gay school.”

Schmidt said the matter at hand was diversity, Newsweek reported. The magazine summarized Schmidt’s comments as follows: “The president of Yale was obliged to point out that a truly diverse student body should also include a representative proportion of heterosexuals. Diversity, ‘perhaps Yale’s most important quality,’ would be endangered if a single group achieved ‘some kind of eccentric dominance.’ ”

While Yale students were quick to coin the phrase “one in four, maybe more” to describe the number of gay students on campus, Schmidt worked to fight this image.

And while it would be easy to characterize Schmidt’s actions as insensitive, it is important to consider the context in which they arose. Beyond Yale, anti-gay sentiment raged in the wake of the AIDS crisis. And Schmidt himself was progressive, cooperating with plans to create a Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale in 1986, a vision brought to fruition the next year.

A TROUBLED TRANSITION

In the ’90s, Yale’s hotbed of gay activism and campus organizing went from a sizzle to a gentle simmer.

The ’90s were a time of “transition,” said David Scarapelli ’95, a gay alum. He noted that while there remained a profusion of gay students on campus, interest in LGBT student groups was unsteady at times.

“There had been a group called Yalesbians that folded as a result of lack of interest in the ’90s,” he said in a phone interview.

“Lack of interest, not lack of lesbians,” his husband, Peter Budinger ’94, shouted in the background.

Still, it wouldn’t be long before Yale was back in the national spotlight for the institution’s stance on gay issues. But this time, it was on the academic front.

With few changes taking place within LGBT student population, Yale developed a renowned program for the LGBT studies throughout the ’90s. This tradition exists thanks to the former History Department Chair John Boswell, who authored “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.” Boswell created the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale in 1987, dying of AIDS seven years later.

This proud piece of progressiveness, however, was not always perfect.

In 1997, Yale alum Larry Kramer ’57, a famous gay activist and founder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), offered Yale a multi-million dollar gift to create either an endowed chair in gay and lesbian studies or a student center for gay students.

Yale said no to his millions.

In an interview earlier this week, Kramer said that when he met with the College Dean Richard Broadhead and University Provost Alison Richard at the time, he was told: “We don’t believe in separating our students out by any matter of means,” despite his protests that Yale had African American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at the time.

But the separation had clearly taken place: Yale had offerings in LGBT studies. The question was whether it wanted to give them prominence, and the University decided against it. That fall, Broadhead told the News that part of the decision came with the newness of the field of gay and lesbian studies.

“Gay and lesbian studies have produced tons of interesting work, but it’s a little hard to know what institutional form it will take 200 years from now,” he told the News at the time.

Four years later, Kramer was back; his brother Arthur Kramer ’49 offered the University 1 million dollars in honor of Larry, creating the Larry Kramer Initiative for LGBT studies.

At the time, Kramer explained that his original gift offer came with a high level of specificity, and in an interview with the Times in 2001, he said he was happy with the new result.

But Kramer was disappointed again, saying he did not expect the Initiative to close in five years after his brother’s gift was spent.

TRUMPLER’S VISION

Kramer has not been the only Eli disappointed by the administration in recent years. Consider the frustrations of many LGBT students after a gender-neutral housing policy failed to pass this spring. By the time the Kramer Initiative ended, Yale had fallen behind many of its peers in terms of its institutional services for LGBT students, as the Advocate’s College Guide for Lesbian and Gay students showed.

Unlike Yale, other Ivy League schools had placed a priority on hiring staff and administrators for LGBT student support. By 2006, Yale was the only Ivy League institution without a dedicated staff member for LGBT student issues. (Yale was still progressive compared to the rest of the nation. Yale added protection based on “gender identity or expression” to its anti-discrimination policy in 2006.)

And so, an LGBT Needs Assessment Task Force composed of students, faculty and staff took a stand, alerting then-Provost Andrew Hamilton of the perceived problem.

Beyond lobbying for an administrator or centralized student space, the Task Force argued that the University should no longer rely exclusively on LGBT student organizations to provide resources and support, given unevenness in offerings from year to year. The administration listened and shifted its approach toward LGBT resources. It wasn’t a big shift, but it was a shift.

In fall 2006, Yale hired Maria Trumpler GRD ’92 to serve as the “special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ affairs.”

Trumpler said that up until she was hired, Yale had gotten “stuck” in the question of whether LGBT students should have the same model of resources afforded to minority students through the cultural centers.

“I think there were significant people in the administration for whom that was a jump they didn’t want to make,” she said.

Yale is still just about in last place in the Ivy League in terms of its administrative support for LGBT students, Windmeyer said. Bob Schoenberg, the director of the LGBT Center at Penn, agreed.

“I’m very familiar with what you have at Yale — and what you don’t have at Yale,” said Schoenberg, co-editor of a book titled “Our Place on Campus: LGBT Programs and Services in Higher Education.” Schoenberg said Yale and Harvard are known for their weakness in terms of the resources they offer LGBT students.

“Harvard and Yale, interestingly, are not up to where their ivy counterparts are in this respect,” he said.

Yale students do offer many LGBT services, such as peer counseling, and the University’s student-run Pride Month outshines most comparable programs at other schools. But two years ago, Yale’s LGBT peer-counseling program had nearly died off, and without enduring institutional support, LGBT resources risk change as their student leaders graduate.

There are numerous explanations for why has Yale been traditionally slow to offer LGBT student services.

Trumpler said that up until her hiring, the administration may have believed there was an adequate existing LGBT support structure between students and faculty.

“There were so many well-placed queer people around,” she said. “I think the thought was that queer people were pretty well-served.”

LGBT Co-Op co-coordinator Yoshi Shapiro ’11 suggested that Yale was hesitant to offer a resource similar to a cultural center.

“It’s one thing to have a community based on heritage, but it’s another to have a community based on sexuality,” she said.

Prefacing his comments by saying that he was purely speculating, Schoenburg said Yale may have been hesitant to play into the stereotype of the “Gay Ivy.” He also speculated that Yale may be afraid of its students dividing themselves up by group, particularly given the decentralized structure of its housing system.

Whatever the reason, Yale has acknowledged its shortfalls and plans to surge ahead of its peers in terms of the resources it offers, Trumpler said. Such was the thinking when the University hired her and when it created the Office of LGBTQ Resources.

“The goal was not to do what other colleges were doing,” she said. “The goal was to look ahead. The goal was to try to figure out what is coming.”

Trumpler said she plans to create an office in a new space — though she declined to name any specific locations she’s considering. Still, her stipulations are clear: two offices, a drop-in space, meeting spaces and hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., made possible with a combination of professional and student staff.

“It would be a hub of activity.” She said. “I’m holding out for a good completed space.”

While Yale’s current construction freeze has put a “slow down” on the creation of this space, Trumpler said she is confident that her vision will be realized well within the next decade. Yet with the failure of gender-neutral housing this year, LGBT students have learned that institutional changes tend to be sluggish, even if their community’s progress is anything but.

Comments

  • Anon

    Fantastic article.