Gay at Yale

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The best thing about returning to Yale for me is that it lets me teach and work with the extraordinary students here. And what I hear from my students is that Yale today is a fundamentally different school from the one I went to 30 years ago.

At the start of my lesbian and gay history lecture course, I ask my students to write me a short ethnography about the place of LGBT people at Yale and in their hometowns. It's a way for me to overcome the anonymity of the lecture hall and to keep in touch with student experience today. Here is what a gay freshman from a conservative town wrote last fall:

In my two short weeks on campus, I have already seen homosexuality in a more positive light than I did in my eight years in my hometown. I have seen a gay male couple having a picnic on the grass on Old Campus; I have seen another gay couple holding hands while sitting on a bench . . . . At Kaleidoscope, a theater performance for freshmen about diversity at Yale, one act focused on one gay student's experience coming out to his family. Looking around me, I saw that the scene had transfixed those around me; these people, who I assume are straight, seemed genuinely interested in and respectful of the message of the scene. Whereas the majority of students at my high school regarded gays and lesbians as outsiders, people fundamentally unlike themselves, Yale undergraduates seem to regard gays and lesbians as perfectly normal.

I still marvel at how different his freshman year was from mine. Although gay marriage, transgender rights, and other issues remain controversial, and too many high schools are still alienating or even dangerious places for LGBT youth, this student has grown up in a world transformed by a generation of change. That change extended far beyond Yale, but it took place cumulatively in the minutiae of local encounters and everyday life. Several generations of Yale students -- gay and straight alike -- helped bring it about. They changed Yale and the world around it more than they once dreamed possible. 

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