Letter from the Outgoing Director

For the past twenty years, CLAGS has been a reliable source for whatever is new and exciting in Queer Studies. From the groundbreaking “Black Nations/Queer Nations” conference to our yearlong series that brought together queer and disability perspectives to the “Trans Politics, Social Change, and Justice” conference to the mindblowing “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes: Lesbian Lives in the 1970s” cornucopia last October, CLAGS has done a masterful job of both looking backwards into our queer pasts and casting our net forwards to gather in the contributions of up-and-coming scholars, activists, and artists.
In this letter I have to do the same, and, believe me, it’s not easy. How to sum up the past four years of immense changes at CLAGS, in the field, and here at CUNY, especially when some of those changes have not been very encouraging? CLAGS faces a future much more fragile than when I took over from Paisley Currah in 2007: after weathering the financial collapse of 2008 and tightening our belts considerably, we recently learned that our support from the The Graduate Center, CUNY had been slashed for this coming year, cutting the only staff member that the GC paid for and significantly reducing the Executive Director’s reassigned time to run CLAGS. Our staff and board are working overtime to replace these funds (expect a phone call very soon!), but all of us are shaken by these recent events.
At the same time, I can’t help but be buoyed by CLAGS’s achievements of the past four years. Paisley had created an amazing foundation for the International Resource Network, our web-based project for transnational sexuality studies, and with the help of the Ford and Arcus foundations, we hired coordinators in six different regions, who assembled regional boards and built lasting connections among scholars in their regions and across the world. The “online history project” that was still unnamed in my first ED’s letter has grown into OutHistory, an award-winning website that allows readers to be historians of their own lives and upload their stories and images directly to the site.
Our partnerships both within and outside the Graduate Center have grown over the past years. We’ve turned our straitened finances into an opportunity to collaborate on projects and pool funds to create events that fully represent our communities, from the “AIDS/Art/Work” conference that we organized with Visual AIDS in 2008, to our ongoing hosting of the Rainbow Book Fair, first at the GC and then at the LGBT Center downtown, to our offering of the Robert Giard Fellowship, to our generative relationships with programs and centers across the GC. We’ve had to be smarter, more creative, a little quicker on our feet to make our programming work, but the payoff has been more than worth it.
I know that Jim Wilson will take all of this in stride. And he’ll have a lot of help from several quarters: the indefatigable staff, whose commitment to CLAGS and whose ability to do an enormous amount with very little is nothing short of awe-inspiring; the brilliant Board of Directors, whose depth of knowledge of the field is matched only by their willingness to try something unknown; and of course CLAGS’s loyal members and donors, who keep us honest, inquisitive, and financially above-water. It’s this combination of people, all of whom believe deeply in CLAGS’s mission, that I’ll miss most of all.