The Magazine

Victimology 101 at Yale

While the rest of the university tightens its belt, guess who's exempted from the austerity campaign?

Mar 16, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 25 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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In December 2008, Yale University president Richard Levin announced a series of budget cuts to compensate for a 25 percent drop in the value of Yale's endowment. This February, the university launched the Office of LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer] Resources to provide support for Yale's homosexual community. According to its director, the new office is intended to make the "University feel like a friendly place as opposed to an alien, hostile place" to gays. The recession, it appears, is going to have little impact on the academic culture of victimology and the ever-growing bureaucracy that supports it.

The idea that Yale is an "alien, hostile place" to gays is one of those absurd conceits that could only be maintained in the alternative universe of academia. Yale students and faculty are undoubtedly the most tolerant, least homophobic people on earth; Yale helped launch the field of gay studies three decades ago and has only increased its involvement since. A partial list of milestones in Yale's support for the self-conscious cultivation of gay identity would include:

* 1986, establishment of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center; sentencing of a student to two years of academic probation for making fun of Yale's Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day (the sentence was withdrawn after First Amendment second thoughts);

* 1990s, start-up of the Pink Book, an official reference guide to courses geared towards lesbian and gay concerns;

* 1998, authorization of an undergraduate concentration in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies;

* 2001, roll-out of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, further increasing the lectures, conferences, and visiting professorships in LGBTS;

* 2006, inclusion of "gender identity or expression" in Yale's nondiscrimination policy (which, of course, already protected sexual orientation) after students campaign for the change; hiring of a "special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ issues" (what the addition of the "Q" signifies was left unexplained); start-up of an oral history project on Yale's record on LGBTQ issues, featuring student interviews of gay Yale alumni; and

* 2009, inauguration of the Office of LGBTQ Relations.

At present, Yale's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies committee sponsors research and course offerings designed to foster "critical analysis of queer and normative sexualities, the formation of sexual and gender minorities, and the role of sexuality in culture and politics across the world." The Pink Book currently recommends 22 courses, including History of Sexuality, which canvasses the "construction of heterosexuality and homosexuality, the role of scientific studies in moral discourse, and the rise of sexology as a scientific discipline" (enrollment limited to freshmen); Cross-Cultural Narratives of Desire (another freshmen-only course); Gender Transgression, which studies the "issues that arise when a person does not have a 'readable' gender identity; what it means to break gender rules; ways in which gender defines sexual categories such as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual; [and] the role of race in gender transgression"; and Music and Queer Identities.

The LGBT Co-op, a university-subsidized student group that "work[s] to provide safe spaces" for LGBT students, organizes the usual pride weeks, complete with S&M lectures and talks by "well-known" transvestites. In 2001, Yale's Pride Week sent out flyers to local high schools and featured a High School GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] Coffee.

In light of this history, one might think it impossible to maintain that Yale needs a new LGBTQ office in order to "feel like a friendly place as opposed to an alien, hostile place" to gays. Especially since the director of that new office, Maria Trumpler, has already been serving as "special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ issues." But Trumpler herself charges that Yale has heretofore failed to confer on gays the power to form a community, reported the Yale Daily News.