Apparently, the days of homophobia are over.
Or so implies Cornell professor Ritch Savin-Williams in a recent Yale Herald article chronicling his just-released book. Savin-Williams cites the “attention showered on lesbian kisses in the mainstream media” as well as reports that gay youths are bullied no more than other kids. His take on “lesbian kisses” certainly raised my eyebrows. What “lesbians,” exactly, is he referring to? Britney Spears and Madonna? This ludicrous conception of “lesbianism” fails to incorporate female masculinity, a reality that would be immediately rejected by a more mainstream audience. But he must be onto something. I mean, he’s not a professor at Cornell for nothing, right?
To test out Professor Savin-Williams’ hypothesis, what better place to turn than Yale, the widely acknowledged “Gay Ivy” on comparable intellectual terrain to Cornell? Let’s take a look at the Yale campus.
Queer identified people?
Check. Plenty of ’em.
Institutionalized support for queer groups that spans the professional, graduate and undergraduate schools?
Um, not exactly. In the absence of any established personal or social LGBTQ resource, LGBTQ-identified students here simply end up draining the energies of academics like Jonathan D. Katz, whose job description doesn’t include personal mentoring or advising campus queer groups but whose heart (thankfully) does.
But for Yale, relying upon the individual sacrifices of the committed professors and faculty involved in sexuality studies seems to be working at the moment. After all, we can currently show off the most ambitious lesbian and gay studies program in the country, the Larry Kramer Initiative (LKI).
Not that Yale has acknowledged the LKI particularly proudly. Within the next two years, the timeline for the LKI will run out, and unless Yale adopts lesbian and gay studies as a part of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, it will cease to exist. This would mean that an entire realm of academic knowledge would be inaccessible to students. Why do you suppose specified “identity-based” departments and programs like African-American studies and women’s studies are still around? Because Yale as an institution acknowledges, in those cases, that those important, legitimate fields of study are often entirely overlooked in the other (not so) comprehensive fields such as political science, English and history. Case in point: My freshman year in Directed Studies, we spent one class on a female author. One class. Care to know how many non-white authors? Queer authors?
Yale tends to be pretty good at soliciting donations from alums and then (importantly) establishing a solid barrier between the donor and the manifestation of his/her money in the academic realm. However, just from reading the News, you can see that with the LKI, Yale has failed to mediate the conflict between Larry Kramer and the Initiative, basically tossing Jonathan D. Katz into the highly publicized ring to work things out with Kramer by himself.
As a friend pointed out in a recent conversation, why does Yale suddenly care so much about what this specific donor wants to see academically, when it usually maintains a distance between the financial and the academic to uphold its academic integrity?
Precisely because Yale does not respect lesbian and gay studies as a legitimate academic program. Or if it does, it needs to start showing it.
This comes as no huge surprise, considering the multitude of unfounded stigmas surrounding sexuality studies. And if Yale continues to passively perpetuate them, it might appear as though the program is destroying itself from within, paving the way for Yale — or whomever — to say “See? Lesbian and gay studies was doomed to fail.”
But really, Yale doesn’t have any problem at all with queer people — as long as they don’t ask to be incorporated into a legitimate academic program. Wait a second, that sounds familiar. That’s right, Yale balked in exactly the same way, as institutions across the country still do, at the prospect of those “women people” joining the intellectual ranks and becoming a subject of study. To avoid a parallel mistake, and to be consistent with its reputation for academic progressiveness, Yale needs to acknowledge the fact that — outside of specific departments like LGS or WGSS — the canons of our “respectable” fields consist almost entirely of dead, white and often straight dudes.
And, since the LKI has picked up so much of the non-academic LGBTQ slack because students lack any established resource outside of the program, if it disappears due to Yale’s complacency, where will LGBTQ students turn then?
While the increasing visibility of same-sex kisses in the mainstream media is a step in the right direction, I would argue that we have more deeply rooted, invisible-yet-pervasive inequalities to tackle now. Though the optimism of individuals such as Professor Savin-Williams is well-intentioned, his lack of discretion in proclaiming that tolerance has been achieved simply masks persistent issues and perpetuates the problem.
Loren Krywanczyk is a junior in Silliman College.