Last Friday was National Coming Out Day. And 12 days ago, students, faculty and other workers from around the University gathered in solidarity with the Law School to protest the temporary suspension of its anti-discrimination policy. I applaud the efforts of those at the Law School who are mobilizing around a legal challenge to this blatant case of extortion. I share in the collective sense of outrage at the federal government, but we must rethink the focus of our outrage and relocate the debate from Washington, D.C. to New Haven.
The primary reason the University gave for the temporary suspension of the policy was the threat of losing $350 million of federal funding, money earmarked largely for biomedical research. I wish to introduce several questions — some pragmatic, some ethical — into this discussion.
Pharmaceutical companies rely on universities like Yale for basic research in the biological and biomedical sciences, research that makes possible not only vital drugs, but also the wealth these companies enjoy. Given the power of the pharmaceutical lobby in Washington and the personal fiscal investment of much of the elected ruling elite in pharmaceutical companies, how likely is it that the federal government would withhold these funds? Is Yale prepared to mobilize its extensive network of alumni, including President Bush, in the name of fighting discrimination, even if the objects of that discrimination are queer people, the last sanctioned pariahs of our society?
More important is the question of collective action: if Yale were to stand at the vanguard and organize other universities to hold firm with us in support of nondiscrimination policies, would the federal government really call for a halt to all public funding of medical research at universities?
Suppose, however, that the federal government were to withhold this money. Should Yale step in and fund its own research? While we are all concerned about important life-saving research as well as the perpetuity of this institution, does Yale really wish to ask its scientists to conduct their research at the expense of the protection of the queer members of our community? I want to believe that Yale does not, but as a community, we must address these questions.
And what is the purpose of Yale’s esteemed endowment? Yale’s Web site maintains that “the role of the Endowment is to support both current and future academic programs of the University, including direct support to maintain the facilities housing these programs.” Its purpose should also be to insulate the University from the caprices of politicians and the prejudices of the day, especially since we recognize this as just such a moment, and ensure that all members of its community are protected against discrimination. Yale’s integrity must not be for sale, even for $350 million.
It is merely defeatism that such a call to remedy this injustice may be dismissed as impossible or naively idealistic. National Coming Out Day was made possible by queer people acting collectively, against tremendous odds, to combat the injustice that prompted the subsequent imperative “Silence equals Death.”
Queer and straight folk alike must stand up together and call on Yale to reaffirm unconditionally its commitment to non-discrimination. Earlier this year at the Vassar College commencement, queer playwright and activist Tony Kushner offered the following exhortation: “Hurry hurry hurry, now now now, damn the critics and the bad reviews: The world is waiting for you! Organize. Speak the truth.”
Jeffrey D. Boyd is a queer fifth-year graduate student in the French Department.