First LGBT reunion not controversy-free

When more than 300 Yale alumni and their guests arrived at Yale for the University’s first-ever lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender alumni reunion this weekend, they found not only camaraderie, but also controversy.

The first-ever recipient of the GALA Lifetime Achievement Award, gay activist Larry Kramer ’57, harshly rebuked the University for its treatment of gay history as an academic field during the three-day reunion, which was jointly organized by the LGBT alumni association Yale GALA and the Association of Yale Alumni. At a dinner ceremony Saturday, Kramer said the University has wrongly relegated the study of gay history to LGBT studies, arguing that there is a significant semantic difference between gay “history” and gay “studies.”

Singer Rufus Wainwright performs at a benefit concert on Thursday night in a nearly sold-out Woolsey Hall.
Eva Galvan
Singer Rufus Wainwright performs at a benefit concert on Thursday night in a nearly sold-out Woolsey Hall.

Declaring that queer and gender theories are “relatively useless,” Kramer — who was among the first to call for action against the AIDS crisis — said gay history has been “hijacked” by queer theorists.

Kramer and Yale have clashed before; in the mid-nineties, Yale rejected a sizable gift from Kramer to create either an endowed chair in gay and lesbian studies or a student center for gay students. In 2001, Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, gave a $1 million gift in Larry’s name to found the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies, which was closed after five years when the gift was spent.

In order to demonstrate the importance of gay history, Kramer declared that he believes many prominent American historical figures were gay, including George Washington, the famous explorer Meriwether Lewis, Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth.

The study of gay history is therefore important as a means of promoting acceptance for LGBT individuals, Kramer said.

“The plague of AIDS was allowed to happen because most of the world hates us,” he said. “They don’t know we’re related to Washington and Lincoln.”

While alumni sat attentively throughout the speech and gave Kramer a standing ovation, some said afterwards that they were standing not necessarily out of agreement with Kramer, but rather out of respect for his activism in the wake of AIDS.

“He’s been a provocateur all of his career, since the AIDS crisis,” said Ken Demario ’64. “I don’t know if this was an appropriate forum for as nasty a broadside as his was against the University.”

In a brief interview after the speech, Provost Peter Salovey said he agreed that the study of LGBT history is important.

“I think among the many points that Larry Kramer made, he emphasized the importance of gay and lesbian history, and he’s absolutely right that this is a serious area for study,” Salovey said.

Salovey said he is proud Yale has very prominent professors such as George Chauncey and Joanne Meyeroweitz, who both specialize in the field of LGBT history.

Independent of their opinions of Kramer’s comments, alumni agreed that the LGBT reunion was itself an important opportunity to reconnect and interact in a way they never could have as students, when few individuals were open about being LGBT.

“I came hoping this would be one more step in healing the feelings of belonging and alienation I felt as an undergraduate,” said David Kincaid ’74 LAW ’77. “I think this is going to help me.”

The GALA weekend is one of 12 similar events for members of shared interest groups that have been coordinated by the AYA since the launch of its new strategic plan in 2007. On the weekend of April 3, for example, more than 200 alumni gathered at Yale for the University’s first-ever Latino alumni reunion. Other reunions have been organized for a cappella groups and the Yale Debate Association, among others.

While GALA has existed since 1984, this was its first reunion, and AYA Director Mark Dollhopf said the partnership with the AYA made more resources available for the event.

In addition to Kramer, alumni honored at the reunion included Bruce Cohen ’83, producer of Milk and American Beauty, and Eliza Byard ’90, the director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The Yale GALA weekend concluded with a remembrance gathering Sunday morning.


  • Pierson '11

    Why is everything labeled gay now? Many of these historical figures in question are from before the 1900's. Prior to the 1900's, it was common for people to share bed with the same sex platonically or be highly affectionate with their friends without being erotic or "gay". Such language and actions can be misinterpreted as romantic or "gay" these days. According to this line of thinking, someday, people will no longer be able to have friends because all those actions will be considered romantic or erotic.

    Somehow, gay history would greatly benefit if such "historians" wouldn't label the smallest actions as gay and instead actually tried to interpret history for what it is. The gay people that existed in history are labeled as such, there are no vague suggestions to the contrary. Modern historical inquiry is in sad shape if scholars cannot seriously put their studies into the overall context of society at the time period being studied. Otherwise, everything in history is simply labeling based on the assumptions of the individual to push a political agenda.

  • Hieronymus

    "Declaring that queer and gender theories are 'relatively useless,' Kramer said gay history has been 'hijacked' by queer theorists."

    D*mn straight!

  • @ Pierson '11

    Please realize that the words you are responding to are those of Larry Kramer, who is one of the most outspoken and provocative LGBT activists out there. Most people do not believe the people he listed are gay. I took Chauncey's course last semester and he emphasizes exactly what you are emphasizing - that people shared beds, the context of society at that time, the label gay didn't exist, etc etc. Though Kramer has done some amazing things in his time, he does not speak for the community.

  • heartsurgeon

    "“The plague of AIDS was allowed to happen because most of the world hates us,”

    I believe it has been unequivocally determined that "the plague of AIDS" happened as a direct result of people participating in unprotected intercourse with multiple sexual partners.

    To a lesser degree, AIDS was spread by to exposure to contaminated blood products.

    The actual cause of AIDS, therefore, was promiscous, risk-taking behaviour.

    That this behaviour occurred primarily among men that have sex with men, is not, to my knowledge,something that has happened because "the world hates" gays.

    This is a sad effort to avoid taking responsibility for self-destructive behaviour, and recast oneself as a "victim" of a hateful world. The hateful world has actually spent billions identifying treatments for AIDS/HIV.

  • ExStr8

    #1 Pierson '11

    I was unaware that history at Yale is being taught with labels. Back in my day we had to study and qualify sources, analyze facts, and come up with reasonable conclusions. There were labels in the museums, but many of them included the very important word "questionable".

    If an error has been made in historical "conclusions", it's that all people were straight. Check out the voluminous attempts to deny that same-sex attraction, much less activity, existed in ancient Greece! Ever heard of hot pokers in England? And, ancient that I am, I was taught that Walt Whitman just loved men "platonically". Wait… where does the word "platonic" come from?!

    Have you ever heard of Rock Hudson?

    Consider the modern case of Larry Craig. A "married with children" U.S. Senator soliciting sex with a man in an airport restroom. Do you have a label handy?

    And if you really want to get kinky, let's talk about J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde--not just gay but cross-dressing!

  • ExStr8

    #4 cardio-psychotic

    First, multiple partners are not required--one infected person will do. You do not have to be promiscuous to get AIDS--a promiscuous husband following the dictates of the "pope" will do.

    If a behavior is not known to be harmful, that behavior is not self-destructive in any cognitive sense, nor does it involve "risk-taking" if there is no know hazard. In the beginning, no one knew anything about AIDS. "The plague of AIDS was allowed to happen" refers to the almost total lack of attention and wall of silence ordered by the Reagan administration:

    "With no cure and no vaccine, educating the public on how AIDS was transmitted, who was at risk, and how to protect oneself was the only way left to slow the spread of the disease. Since this task fell under the mandate of his office, Surgeon General Koop concluded that "if ever there was a disease made for a Surgeon General, it was AIDS." Nevertheless, for the first four years in office, the nation's top health officer was prevented from addressing the nation's most urgent health crisis, for reasons he insisted were never fully clear to him but that were no doubt political. During the early years of the epidemic, AIDS predominantly affected people--homosexuals and intravenous drug users--who, in the view of President Reagan and his domestic policy advisers, brought the disease upon themselves by engaging in immoral conduct…For two years, Koop was excluded from the Executive Task Force on AIDS established in 1983 by his immediate superior, Assistant Secretary of Health Edward Brandt. Journalists received instructions from Brandt's office in advance of press conferences that the Surgeon General would not answer questions about AIDS…"

    The above is take from today's AmercaBlog which begins:

    After the nonstop cable coverage of the declaration of a public health emergency today by the Obama Administration, I wonder WHAT IF President Reagan declared a public health emergency in the first week of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in 1981….how many lives could have been saved????

    And if you really want to know more about Reagan's hateful approach to the beginnings of the AIDS crisis read

    Shilts, Randy
    And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

    The hateful world started caring about AIDS when "straight" people began contracting it.

  • @#6

    Thank you, #6 for clarifying. #4 was looking at it from a purely 2009 perspective with no sense of history or perspective (Hopefully he/she isnt a Yalie lol)!

  • Mark Snyder

    As the founder of QueerToday I take offense that Larry equated queer with the n-word. Many of us self-identify as queer because it is the word we choose that best describes our gender, sexuality, and/or politics. No "leader" should police our identities for us.