On the Agenda

This newsletter goes to press just as Millennium Mania is reaching its fever pitch. If my own dismissive attitude toward the doom-sayers turns out to be warranted, our computers have not collapsed, the sky has not fallen, and our newsletter has reached your address intact. Of course there’s been more to the millennial madness than apocalyptic anxieties and mega-marketing opportunities for products and services of all sorts and sizes. The obsession with Y2K—which represents only one of the world’s calendar systems, after all— has also marked the way in which a particular religious view increasingly passes for the secular in the US. Indeed, the recent declaration by Republican presidential contender George W. Bush that his most admired political philosopher is Christ, and that he can’t even begin to explain what that means to people who don’t already share his experience, reminds us of how easily sectarianism can be inserted in political discourse and made to stand in for a general, non-denominational ideal of morality.

This statement followed hard upon George W’s refusal to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, arguing—against all obvious facts of political campaign practice—that he doesn’t believe in speaking with groups. Meanwhile, in a nationally televised debate, the leading Democratic candidates, Al Gore and Bill Bradley both asserted their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which includes sexual orientation as a protected category) and for ending the military’s “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy. Only days later, the Vermont State Supreme Court ruled in favor of extending the privileges of marriage to lesbian and gay couples.

As we go to press, these are just the latest blips on the LGBTQ radar screen, and then, only those that cross an electoral and legislative axis, where we’re soon to see, too, a new rash of repressive, anti-gay referenda. In sum, the prominence of LGBTQ issues on the national agenda seems only to keep intensifying. As public institutions cut budgets, often expressing ideology through the places where the budget axe falls, CLAGS will be paying particular attention to the question of whether LGBTQ studies (along with other relatively recently acknowledged or identity-based fields) will find themselves with diminished resources—or even canceled. How do such changes as efforts to do away with tenure, the proliferation of distance-learning programs, or the increasing corporatization of the university affect our field?

And what about the way LGBTQ Studies itself is developing within this context? Is the field moving in a direction that makes it meaningful or desirable only in elite institutions? How does the field speak, for instance, to the largely working-class, immigrant, and people-of-color student body that attends CUNY? Feminism once fueled theories of gay liberation. Where has it gone—and why—both in activist and academic expressions of LGBTQ concerns? What sorts of investigations get included under the new rubric of “Gender and Sexuality Studies.” For instance, do transgender and transsexual experiences acquire the focus they deserve under this new framework—and what, if anything gets excluded? How can (or should) new academic centers contribute to public policy debate around, for example, such issues as family? These are some of the questions we’ll be thinking about at CLAGS in our programming over the next few years. That’s all another way of saying that CLAGS’s mission seems all the more urgent these days, and our Spring programming, all the more timely. Committed to fostering and disseminating scholarship that examines LGBTQ lives, through our public programs and publications CLAGS provides opportunities to look beneath the headlines and the political rhetoric—to step back and consider the issues that erupt into the mainstream media, in multi-faceted, fully contextualized, historical, analytical, and, yes, passionate, ways.

Our April conference, Whose Millennium?: Religion, Sexuality, and the Values of Citizenship, will consider such questions as why nations and religious institutions seem so intent on proscribing homosexuality, and how gay men and lesbians are carving out space within traditional denominations and beyond. (See a full description on page 15.) Our Colloquium Series continues with presentations of new research by our Rockefeller fellows Esther Newton and Jasbir Puar, along with several others—including some new additions since our Fall calendar was published, so be sure to consult the updated listings on page 16.

We’re also planning a special Queer CUNY Conference for early May that will bring together staff, students, and faculty from all the CUNY campuses to consider the state of LGBTQ studies and lives in our university. CLAGS’s ever-popular Seminars in the City program continues Spring semester with Licia Fiol-Mata and José Muñoz leading discussions of LGBTQ Latina/o literature. The Seminars in the City will be moving to the fully accessible Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. (See page 13.)

Finally, in collaboration with NYU’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, CLAGS is initiating a discussion series for teachers—and wannabe teachers—of LGBTQ Studies. (More on page 12.)

One more change: As you’ll see in these pages, we are beginning to expand our newsletter and we welcome your suggestions and submissions. We are instituting an op-ed section, this issue, featuring a piece by CLAGS member Jim Davis on page 16. We are also hoping to include more debate and discussion of LGBTQ issues, books, and ideas. Drop us a line if you have proposals. With thanks for your support of CLAGS and best wishes for a healthy and happy (Gregorian calendar) New Year.

Alisa Solomon
Executive Director