Two men are changing the face of gender studies at Yale, and they go by one name — Jonathan Katz.
Jonathan D. Katz serves as the executive coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies, a grant enabling further development of gay and lesbian studies at Yale. Jonathan Ned Katz is a visiting professor and a prominent author on the topic of sexuality whose works include “Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality.” This semester, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program is sponsoring classes from both professors — a benchmark for gender studies at Yale.
This semester, Jonathan D. Katz is offering “Introduction to Lesbian and Gay Studies” while Jonathan Ned Katz will teach “Lesbian and Gay History,” an advanced history class.
Larry Kramer ’57 donated $1 million and a collection of manuscripts for gay and lesbian studies in 1997, but the Yale administration rejected the Kramer Initiative on the grounds that it did not fit into Yale’s existing academic structure. The University later accepted the donation in 2001 and has since become a forerunner in the field.
“We emerged with twice the resources of any university in the world and as the first Ivy League to do gay studies,” Jonathan D. Katz said.
Yale is currently using the Kramer Initiative to hire visiting professors in the field. Previously, the University hired professors for only one year, but because this did not create a stable environment for students, Yale has begun hiring junior professors for two-year stays, Jonathan D. Katz said. With this hiring initiative, Jonathan Ned Katz will teach at Yale for two years.
“I’m very excited about that — the struggle to understand — I’m going to try to communicate the excitement I feel about this detective work,” Jonathan Ned Katz said. “I’m looking for the missing persons of lesbian and gay American history that haven’t been paid attention to.”
In addition to the Larry Kramer initiative, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Cooperative at Yale, or LGBT, played a role in bringing more queer studies professors to Yale, said Alyssa Rosenberg ’06, coordinator-at-large of the LGBT.
“The University has made no visible efforts to attract and retain openly queer faculty or truly eminent faculty who concentrate in queer and gender studies,” LGBT members said in a letter to the Yale administration. “Yale needs to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to the Larry Kramer Initiative and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.”
Jonathan Ned Katz said these new queer studies classes will take a unique look at sexual orientation and history and even how it pertains to Yale.
“We’re going to try to escape the starting point of today — that’s there’s homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual,” Katz said. “We’re going to ask in class, what were the words that people a hundred years ago used, what were the ideas they had. The student paper that will be required will focus on the lesbian and gay history of Yale, New Haven or Connecticut.”
Rosenberg, who is enrolled in Jonathan D. Katz’s “Introduction to Lesbian and Gay Studies” course, said the new classes are relevant to students of all sexual orientations.
“Queer studies is not just the study of queer people. It’s the study of non-queer people as well,” Rosenberg said. “Issues of homophobic violence discuss what non-queer people do — It’s just as much a study of non-queer people as it is queer people.”
Jonathan D. Katz has also been instrumental in the Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies Committee, which brings a variety of lecturers to Yale.
“Jonathan Katz has grabbed the most unusual and exotic people. We’re hoping it will start to be seen as an exciting way of introducing students to new work in gay and lesbian studies,” said Naomi Rogers, director of undergraduate studies for Women’s and Gender Studies.