Working with CLAGS this last year at our quarterly Board meetings, at our monthly committee meetings, and with the daily operations of our office, I’m continual ly impressed by the sophistication of our programs, the depth of our discussions, and the passion of our arguments about gay and lesbian and queer studies and its relationship to our diverse communities. After a productive year of four conferences and our monthly colloquia, amplified by co-sponsored events that sometimes didn’t even make it onto our annual calendar, I’m proud of the richness of the work we’ve sponsored and presented.
1996-97 was a key year for gay, lesbian, and queer studies, on campuses around the country, in our broader communities, and in the national imagination. The University of Wisconsin-Madison published a major, two-year study on gay/ lesbian issues in its curricula and in its campus life, with a series of recommendations that will be useful for colleges and universities nationwide to consider. The University of California-Riverside establ ished an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in gay and lesbian studies, chaired by Sue-Ellen Case and George Haggerty, one of the first of its kind in the country. The University of Minnesota received nearly $500,000 from Steven j. Schochet, who had been a gay student at the university before its institutional structure could accommodate his life choices. His represents the largest gift ever designated to support the development of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies. Schochet says, “This is my way of ensuring that things continue to get better for g/1/b/t people on campus.” Beth Zemsky, the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/ Transgender Programs Office Director at U of M, says the endowment wi ll support the development of educational materials, curriculum, programming, and research in g/1/b/t studies. While campus activities like these continue to make an issue of lesbian, gay, and queer studies, our political community has been galvanized by debates over DOMA and ENDA, by child custody battles, and by struggles to establish domestic partnership rights and benefits on campuses and in cities around the country. Participants at Relatively Speaking, one of our four major conferences this year, discussed the benefits and pitfalls of spending so much of our nascent political capital on family issues. Culturally, the public disclosure of Ellen DeGeneres’s and her fi ctional counterpart’s sexuality heightened white middleclass lesbian visibility in popular entertainment. Regardless of how calculated its manipulation by ABC/Disney’s bottom line, DeGeneres’s choice spurred a conversation about lesbians that could ripple through public discourse for some time. A recent article in the Washington Blade noted that more people recognize Ellen’s name than Ralph Reed’s. It seems we can’t dismiss the power of popular culture.
At the same time, questions about those people in our communities who have gained the power of public discourse raise troubling, provocative questions. Martha Gever poses these questions, among others, in her 1997-98 research project, funded in part by CLAGS’s Constance jordan Award for CUNY doctoral dissertations. If we expect certain things from celebrities, what is the role of gay and lesbian public intellectuals, who enter the public sphere and often bear what Kobena Mercer calls the “burden of representation”? Why are certain voices in our communities achieving a public forum, while others (many queer academics among them) are not reaching wider audiences? Events and discussions sponsored by CLAGS have contributed toward shaping our understandings of these academic, political, and cultural events. Our conferences consistently examine the relationship between sexual practice and identity, at the intersections of race, class, and ethnicity. They explore the pragmatics of queer activism, often in academic and political institutions that remain heterosexist at best, homophobic at worst. They provide a space for ideas to develop and theories to be proposed that are deeply connected to activist practices inside and outside the classrooms in which we teach and the research we conduct. I’m very pleased that Miranda joseph and Urvashi Vaid will be joining us at CLAGS as our Rockefeller Fellows for 1997- 98. They will hold honorary appointments on our Board, and help us plan a conference around the fellowship theme in April 1998. joseph’s work is interdisciplinary and has an activist cast; Vaid’s work, which grows from her goals for the Pol icy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which she heads, will allow CLAGS to support and interact with an activist political organizing project. We look forward to the rich exchanges we know we’ll have with both of them. To help proliferate scholarship and public intellectual discourse about gay/lesbian/queer lives, I’m pleased to announce the publication of two important anthologies from NYU Press, which we hope will begin a long, productive affiliation between CLAGS and the Press. Both volumes, A Queer World and Queer Representations, are edited by CLAGS’s founder, Marty Duberman, and include papers and articles that originated at CLAGS events. Marty’s staunch dedication to the dissemination of queer scholarship, and his willingness to devote hours of his labor to curating these anthologies, deserves our deepest collective thanks. We’ve spent some time discussing CLAGS’s mission this year, and will continue to pursue these conversations in the Fall. What is CLAGS’s constituency? How can we make research created in the academy, and conversations generated in classrooms, live far outside those borders? How can we maintain porous boundaries between the academy and the community, continuing to destabilize a binary that gay and lesbian studies has always rejected as inappropriate to our concerns? How can CLAGS more effectively stage events that provide forums in which community and academic activists share skills and knowledges? How can we continue to provide forums in which queer theorists can share their ideas and speak their minds, without fear of rep~isal from conservative scholars and colleagues? In the Fall, we’ll begin planning an interdisciplinary studies option for Ph.D. students at the The Graduate Center, CUNY. We hope to make more vital connections with faculty and students all over the 22-campus CUNY system, bringing CLAGS members into closer contact with the next generation of scholars and activists. We hope to build more active networks among students, teachers, and activists working in colleges, universities, and communities nationally and internationally. Our desires are wide-ranging and perhaps utopic, but that’s as it should be. A lot of work remains to be done. I’ve learned a lot this year, from the speakers at our conferences and colloquia; from the stunningly committed, articulate, and productively contentious members of our Board of Directors; and from our generous and dedicated funders, without whose support our extensive range of programs wouldn’t be possible. I know that next year, I’ll continue to learn more. Thanks for your continuing support of CLAGS. Call us to let us know what programs you’d like to see offered, and how you’d like to work with us to further new understandings of gay/lesbian/queer experiences in all avenues of education, culture, and politics.