With Valentine’s Day approaching, the air is saturated with discussions of dates and romantic setups, and use of the cliched phrase “one in four, maybe more” seems to have increased. The phrase dates from an Aug. 4, 1987 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Lipstick and Lords: Yale’s New Look,” a piece that covered the popular Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Co-op dances but is typically remembered for its widely cited — and perhaps just as widely questioned — assertion that 25 percent of Yale students are homosexual.
Veracity aside, both the article and the cliche it spawned imply that sexual minorities benefit from numbers, power and constant discourse here at “the gay Ivy.” But this is far from the truth. While Yale profits from a diverse non-heterosexual population, the resources dedicated to the support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning students and their activities lag far behind the community’s needs. The gay community lacks a coherent support system. We are considered academically negligible, if program funding is any indication. And the University’s new diversity plan suggests that our views and presence are undervalued in Yale’s faculty.
While the administration feels that peer counseling and mental health services alone suffice, the LGBTQ community at Yale has repeatedly requested that the University appoint a dean of LGBTQ affairs. Yale has made it clear that its dedication to diversity includes creating spaces where individuals can celebrate and share their identities, where they can feel comfortable with their differences. Various cultural houses have been established at Yale to foster a sense of community among people who share histories and experiences due to their shared difference. Each has a dean who provides support for students and takes on their causes.
By contrast, the task of championing LGBTQ issues to the administration has fallen largely on students and a small group of faculty generous enough to donate their time and energy. To be sure, the University has increased the resources offered to the LGBTQ community — it provided a small space for a student-run Queer Resource Center and a phone network for a peer support hotline. But we still depend predominantly on the UOFC and the generosity of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association to meet our needs. The University has made no significant financial commitment to foster the same community support system it has provided for other communities.
The University has been engaged in a high-profile battle with Larry Kramer over the Larry Kramer Initiative and Lesbian and Gay Studies for some time. LKI has been instrumental in increasing the discussion of LGBTQ issues on campus through well-attended lectures, and has provided students with the necessary resources to explore sexuality in an academic context.
While it is debatable whether all of Kramer’s demands are reasonable, his assertion that Yale is not willing to make a sufficient investment in Lesbian and Gay Studies is accurate. The University maintains an official commitment to the LKI, yet it refuses to allocate any funding to the program beyond two visiting professors (who, it seems, have no chance of remaining at Yale regardless of academic ability). The wait-and-see attitude the University holds towards the LKI is hindering the program’s growth, particularly because of the resulting lack of permanent teaching positions.
With the goal of removing barriers that prevent diversity among faculty members, President Levin unveiled a diversity plan last semester that, if successful, will increase representation of the perspectives of minorities and women. When I questioned Levin at an open forum about the absence of sexual minorities in the recruitment and retention plan, he responded that there was no need to include sexual orientation because it is protected by the University’s discrimination policy. Every group targeted by the diversity plan is protected by the discrimination policy. There are few openly LGBTQ faculty, a fact possibly attributable to the history of “gay purges” within the academic world. While the University seems to value the unique perspective many underrepresented groups can bring to its faculty, LGBTQ individuals have been omitted. The threat of low job security that LGBTQ academics face at Yale is driving talented individuals to other institutions. This is the exact predicament the diversity plan hopes to alleviate for other underrepresented groups.
Despite Yale’s unofficial reputation as “the gay Ivy,” the University has yet to seriously assess and address the needs of its LGBTQ population. Students and faculty members have managed to pick up the slack for some time now, but it is undeniable that the health and happiness of one of Yale’s most sizable minorities is worth the reasonable investment required. It is time the University gave it serious consideration.
Andrew Dowe is a sophomore in Berkeley College.