Looking Back Looking Ahead

Vivien Ng said something at a roundtable discussion CLAGS hosted in
October that has been ringing in my ears ever since. The roundtable had
brought together a range of Women’s Studies and LGTBQ Studies scholars,
writers and teachers, to consider what lessons LGTBQ Studies might draw from its
older sister as the younger field becomes further institutionalized at universities and
colleges across the country. Was feminism still a motive force? we wondered. Did that
field somehow speak to and from a vibrant movement, or at least to and from
women’s communities? Was it still accountable to them in some way? Was it ever?
And how could LGTBQ Studies replicate what worked and avoid what went amiss?
Ng, a long-time professor of Women’s Studies, summed up the situation on her
SUNY-Albany campus, and in general: “Women’s Studies is no longer a center of
change because the kind of feminism we came out of is no longer relevant.”
So, we had to ask ourselves: Is the lesbian and gay liberation movement that
produced LGTBQ Studies still relevant? To whom is our work accountable? What
inspires it? Do we keep more of an eye on the tenure committee than on the streets?
What’s happening in the streets, anyway?
These are among the questions CLAGS is drawn to over and over these days, as
we work on solidifying LGTBQ Studies at the Graduate Center – this past semester,
our Interdisciplinary Concentration in Lesbian and Gay/Queer Studies got rolling and
19 students enrolled in the Intro course that is part of it – and, especially, as we
approach our 10th birthday. Anniversaries, of course, create occasions both for
looking back and taking stock of what we have achieved, and for thinking ahead
about how much more there is to do. To accomplish the former, this newsletter
includes a thick special section in which we review a decade we feel quite proud of;
with it, we launch a year-long celebration of this milestone. To accomplish the latter,
of course, there’s a full semester of programming ahead, including a major
conference focused precisely on the futures of the field.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Martin Duberman and a
dedicated committee of university-based and independent scholars secured a place
for CLAGS at the The Graduate Center, CUNY, initiating the first institution of its kind. So
much has changed since then – there are now dozens of LGTBQ Studies programs
across the country. And yet, so many things have stubbornly remained the same –
queer-bashing is still a popular college sport and LGTBQ
scholars still have to defend constantly the academic
worthiness of their pursuits. And wasn’t there a George
Bush in the White House when CLAGS got started?
Indeed, the ascension of W. makes many of us
expect to have to fight many old battles again, as well as
new ones we might not ever have imagined. As
governor, Bush proclaimed his support for sodomy laws
and acted to prevent gay adoptions; as a presidential
candidate he promised that he would not appoint a
liaison to the LGTBQ community. His hopes of turning
over state social service funds to churches and of
providing public support for parochial schools do not
bode well for queer inclusion – especially since the
Supreme Court (not long before installing Bush) ruled
that the Boy Scouts were entitled to exclude gays. (This
was the first gay-related case that saw an amicus brief on
our side from the NAACP because of the ruling’s
implications for granting groups exemptions from other
anti-bias statutes. Even those civil rights that have long
been won now seem up for grabs.)
CLAGS is fortunate to be at CUNY, which values
and enthusiastically supports our work, but there is no
protected ivory tower; as the far right takes up posts
everywhere from small agencies to the presidential
cabinet, we may see renewed and emboldened attacks
on our work and on our lives. Doing the work is, of course, one of the best defenses:
describing, analyzing, contextualizing, theorizing LGTBQ experiences, perspectives, and
insights, we fervently believe, has an irreversible impact on individual as well as public
consciousness.
I’m inclined to assert, then, that it’s not just a coincidence, that our first major
Spring semester event – “Crossing Borders 2001: US Latina/o Queer Performance” — will
take place in Texas, as a joint production of CLAGS and UT-Austin’s Center for Mexican
American Studies and Department of Theater and Dance. Soon thereafter, we’ll host here
in New York, “Sexuality and Space: Queering Geographies of Globalization” (cosponsored
by the American Association of Geographers). And by then, our full program
of Seminars in the City, the Colloquium Series, and the Lesson Plans pedagogy
workshops will be in full swing for the semester – see the calendar on p. [ ] and stories
inside for details on these programs as well as on the 2nd Annual Queer CUNY
conference and on other upcoming events.
In April, we will fulfill some of the anniversary year’s imperative to contemplate our
past and conspire about our future with a major national conference, “Building LGBT
Studies into the University: Program Planning for the 21st Century,” which will bring
together teachers, staff, students, and scholars from around the country to trade both
nitty-gritty strategies and incisive theories about fortifying and expanding the field.
There, I expect, we’ll delve deeper into some of the questions that we began to consider
at that October roundtable. And, I trust, we’ll come away both braced for the Bush years
and dedicated to a new decade of LGTBQ inquiry, teaching, and activism.