Reflections From A Former Executive Director

I joined CLAGS as a board member in 1994, at a
transitional moment in its history. The grassroots
activist project that Marty Duberman had started
in his living room had been recognized as one of
CUNY’s Research Centers for only a short time at
that point, and many people on the board struggled
with what it meant to be institutionally affi liated.
The board had grown from people Marty knew per-
sonally to a broader group of gay and lesbian scholars
(or simply scholars working on gay and lesbian
issues) recommended by others. For example, I was
brought to the board by Alisa Solomon, and met
Marty for the fi rst time at my fi rst meeting.
The expanded board faced tensions between its
academics and activists, and between the white folks
and people of color who increasingly populated the
board. Part of the tension also stemmed from Mar-
ty’s position as both Founder and Executive Director. Any fl edgling organization goes through periods of
diffi cult growth, especially those that begin as the
brainchildren of charismatic, inspirational fi gures
like Marty. I sensed that Marty was accustomed to
putting his stamp on CLAGS’s public programs.
The fi rst conference staged after I joined the board,
“Black Nations/Queer Nations,” was organized by
a collective of people of color, and raised issues of
ownership and oversight that clarifi ed CLAGS’s
shifting structures of power and affi liation. Lead-
ing an organization like CLAGS is also exhausting,
especially when it’s growing from grassroots to in-
stitutionalized, from local to national, from informal
to systematized. I sensed Marty’s fatigue. When
he decided to step down as Executive Director, my
appointment as his successor was facilitated by my
faculty position at the The Graduate Center, CUNY.
To grow into a truly national force required new
systems of fi scal accountability and growth, all of
which were complicated by CLAGS’s relationship
to the Graduate Center’s elaborate bureaucracy. We
also paid close attention to development, a chore
beautifully facilitated by Rachel Cohen, one of the
Development Directors during my term as ED.
CLAGS needed more formal operating procedures, so
we formed standing committees to oversee member-
ship and fundraising, programming, community
relations, CUNY relations, and the host of other
issues that founded CLAGS’s mission. We wrote by-
laws. We instituted term limits for Board members
with a fair and equitable process for diversifying
our representation and inviting new members to
join. We established methods for initiating confer-
ences and symposium that would allow those who
framed their contents and methods to claim their
ownership, and that encouraged affi liated scholars to
work with community-based intellectuals and activists.
We recommitted to addressing
and ameliorating the activist/academic
divide. We hammered out the vision
and the contract for the CLAGS series in
queer studies at NYU Press. We began
the Seminars in the City series of public
mini-courses. We institutionalized the
annual QUNY conference, providing a
social and intellectual meeting ground
for CUNY-affi liated students, staff, and
faculty. We wrote grants and developed
relationships with donors. We staged
parties, events, and programs that celebrated
the famous and the infamous. We
addressed cutting-edge issues in lesbian/
gay/queer/bi/trans politics, thought, and
culture of the day.
During my three years as ED I saw myself
primarily as a translator and a facilitator. I rep-
resented CLAGS’s interests to the CUNY admin-
istration, explaining why it was important for us
to stage conferences and symposia on topics that
seemed extraneous to them. I represented the
CUNY administration to the CLAGS Board, trying
to explain what it meant for us to be housed
in a large and unwieldy public institution in a city
then run by Rudy Giuliani and a state headed by
George Pataki. I spoke to funders at the Rock-
efeller and Gill and Rapaport Foundations of our
mission. I talked to donors over meals and at
cocktail parties, explaining how their support fur-
thered our goals. I persuaded the Board that their
participation in fundraising wasn’t cooptation, but
rather was entirely necessary to ensure CLAGS’s
longevity, convincing them, along with then-De-
velopment Director Stephanie Grant, that each
Board member should either contribute to or raise
a set amount of money for CLAGS each year.
Thanks to our collective work, we ushered
CLAGS into a secure future. Seven years ago, I left
CUNY and CLAGS for an endowed faculty position
at the University of Texas at Austin. When
I receive the CLAGS newsletter, I’m proud and
grateful that CLAGS continues to fl ourish. I’m
reminded of how much labor and debate and
measuring of political value against instrumental
effi cacy went into each of our decisions during my
fi ve years on the board. I remember the compro-
mises, angry phone calls, fraught conversations,
accusations, apologies, ovations, laughter, and
intellectual frisson and vision that invigorated my
time at CLAGS. That we’ve achieved our 15th anniversary
is a credit to us all. I’m looking forward
to the next.

Jill Dolan holds the
Zachary T. Scott
Family Chair in
Drama and heads
the MA/PhD
program in theatre
theory with an
emphasis on
performance as
public practice at
the University of
Texas at Austin.
Her book, Utopia
in Performance:
Finding Hope at
the Theatre, is now
available from Uni-
versity of Michigan
Press (2005).