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Harvard Becomes First University With Gay Studies Chair

Harvard Becomes First University With Gay Studies Chair

Harvard University announced Thursday plans to create an endowed visiting professorship for the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies, making it the first American university adding this kind of position.

Harvard University announced Thursday plans to create an endowed visiting professorship for the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies, making it the first American university adding this kind of position.

Yale passed on the chance to create this kind of position over 10 years ago. Larry Kramer, the prominent AIDS activist and Yale class of '57, offered enough funding for either an endowed chair in gay and lesbian studies or a LGBT student center back in 1997. The University turned the offer down, upsetting Kramer, which brought national media attention. 

At the time of Kramer's offer, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead stated the University's decision was based, in part, on the newness of gay and lesbian studies to academia. Brodhead said “Gay and lesbian studies have produced tons of interesting work, but it’s a little hard to know what institutional form it will take 200 years from now” 

Yale founded the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in 1987, even with name and structure changes over the years, the LGBT Studies program has seen significant growth.  In 2001, Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, donated a gift of $1 million in Larry’s name to found the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies. It was closed after five years when the donation was spent.

Yale has hired prominent scholars with ties to LGBT studies, including George Chauncey ‘77 GRD ‘83, a history of sexuality expert, as well as American social history. In 2006, he accepted a teaching position in the History Department.

Harvard’s professorial position will have a different visiting professor every semester. The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, which is LGBT alumni, faculty, staff and students, gave a gift of $1.5 million making the creation of the position possible.

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Boo Jarchow