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Queer studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity usually focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and cultures. Universities have also labeled this area of analysis Sexual Diversity Studies, Sexualities Studies or LGBTQ Studies (Q for "Questioning"). Queer has traditionally meant odd or unusual, but its use in reference to LGBT communities, as well as those perceived to be members of those communities, has largely replaced the traditional definition and application.

Originally centered on LGBT history and literary theory, the field has expanded to include the academic study of issues raised in biology, sociology, anthropology, the history of science,[1] philosophy, psychology, political science, ethics, and other fields by an examination of the identity, lives, history, and perception of queer people. Marianne LaFrance, the former chair of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University,[2] says, "Now we're asking not just 'What causes homosexuality?' [but also] 'What causes heterosexuality?' and 'Why is sexuality so central in some people's perspective?'"[1]

Though a "young discipline," a growing number of colleges have begun offering academic programs related to sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation.[3] There are currently over 40 certificate and degree granting programs with at least five institutions in the United States offering an undergraduate major; a growing number of similar courses are offered in countries other than the United States. In 2003, the most substantial programs were noted to be at City College of San Francisco, the City University of New York, University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and New York University.[1] Other colleges that provide degrees in the discipline include Yale University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Maryland, DePaul University, St. Andrews University, and California State University Northridge.

Founding scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Founding scholars in what has come to be called queer studies include Michel Foucault, Andrew Jeffers, Judith Butler, Alan Bray, David Halperin, Audre Lorde, John Boswell, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Halberstam. Precisely because of some of its major strands of analysis and work on public perception, a great emphasis is placed on the integration of theory and practice, with many programs encouraging community service work, community involvement, and activist work in addition to academic reading and research.

Techniques in queer studies include the search for queer influences and themes in works of literature; the analysis of political currents linking the oppression of women, racialized groups, and disadvantaged classes with that of queer people; and the search for queer figures and trends in history that queer studies scholars view as having been ignored and excluded from the canon.

Queer studies is not to be confused with queer theory, an analytical viewpoint within queer studies (and centered on literary studies and philosophy) that challenges the "socially constructed" categories of sexual identity.[1]

Professor Kevin Floyd has argued that the formative arguments for Marxism and those that have been the basis for queer theory should be reformulated to examine the dissociation of sexuality from gender at the beginning of the twentieth century in terms of reification, and to claim that this dissociation is one aspect of a larger dynamic of social reification enforced by capitalism.[4]


Lesbian and gay studies originated in the 1970s with the publication of several "seminal works of gay history."[1] Inspired by African American studies, women's studies, and similar identity-based academic fields, the initial emphasis was on "uncovering the suppressed history of gay and lesbian life;" it also made its way into literature departments, where the emphasis was on literary theory.[1] Queer theory soon developed, challenging the "socially constructed" categories of sexual identity.[1]

The first undergraduate course in the United States on LGBTQ studies was taught at the University of California, Berkeley in the spring of 1970.[5] It was followed by similar courses in the fall of 1970 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL).[5] The UNL course, taught by Louis Crompton, led to the introduction in the state legislature of a bill (eventually defeated) which would have banned all discussion of homosexuality in that state's universities and colleges.[5] According to Harvard University, the City University of New York began the first university program in gay and lesbian studies in 1986.[3][6] The City College of San Francisco claims to be the "First Queer Studies Department in the U.S.,"[7] with English instructor Dan Allen having developed one of the first gay literature courses in the country in Fall 1972, and the college establishing what it calls "the first Gay and Lesbian Studies Department in the United States" in 1989.[8] Then-department chair Jonathan David Katz was the first tenured faculty in queer studies in the country.[2]

Historians John Boswell and Martin Duberman made Yale University a notable center of lesbian and gay studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Each published several books on gay history; Boswell held three biennial conferences on the subject at the university, and Duberman sought to establish a center for lesbian and gay studies there in 1985.[1] However, Boswell died in 1994, and in 1991 Duberman left for the City University of New York, where he founded its influential Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.[1] A 1993 alumnus gift evolved into the faculty committee-administered Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies, which developed a listing of courses relevant to lesbian and gay studies called the "Pink Book" and established a small lending library named for Boswell. The committee began to oversee a series of one-year visiting professorships in 1994.[1]

In 1997, writer and AIDS activist Larry Kramer offered his alma mater Yale $4 million (and his personal papers) "to endow a permanent, tenured professorship in gay studies and possibly to build a gay and lesbian student center."[6][9] His proposal was specific: "Yale is to use this money solely for 1) the study of and/or instruction in gay male literature, by which I mean courses to study gay male writers throughout history or the teaching to gay male students of writing about their heritage and their experience. To ensure for the continuity of courses in either or both of these areas tenured positions should be established; and/or 2) the establishment of a gay student center at Yale..." [6] With gender, ethnic and race-related studies still relatively new, then-Yale provost Alison Richard stated that gay and lesbian studies was too narrow a specialty for a program in perpetuity.[6] Yale's response to Kramer's proposal read: "Although we cannot accept the specific structure you have proposed, I hope that in our meeting we can talk about other ways of directing your generosity, thereby benefiting gay studies and, perhaps, other endeavors here at Yale."[6] Negotiations broke down as Kramer, frustrated by what he perceived as Yale's "homophobic" resistance, condemned the university in a front page story in The New York Times.[6][9] According to Kramer, he subsequently received "letters from more than 100 institutions of higher learning begging me to consider them."[6] In 2001, Yale accepted a $1 million grant from his older brother, money manager Arthur Kramer, to establish the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies.[1]Cite error: The <ref> tag has too many names (see the help page). The 5-year program aimed to "bring in visiting faculty, host conferences and lectures, and coordinate academic endeavors in lesbian and gay studies."[1]Cite error: The <ref> tag has too many names (see the help page). Jonathan David Katz assumed the role of executive coordinator in 2002; in 2003 he commented that while women's studies or African American studies have been embraced by American universities, lesbian and gay studies have not.[1] He blamed institutional "fear of alienating alumni of private universities -- or legislators who fund public ones."[1] The Larry Kramer Initiative ended in 2006.

In June 2009, Harvard University announced that it will establish an endowed chair in LGBT studies.[3][6][10] Believing the post to be "the first professorship of its kind in the country,"[6] Harvard President Drew G. Faust called it “an important milestone.”[3][10] Funded by a $1.5 million gift from the members and supporters of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus,[11] the F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality is named for a mid-20th century gay Harvard American studies scholar and literary critic[3][10] who chaired the undergraduate program in history and literature.[3] Harvard Board of Overseers member Mitchell L. Adams said, “This is an extraordinary moment in Harvard’s history and in the history of this rapidly emerging field ... And because of Harvard’s leadership in academia and the world, this gift will foster continued progress toward a more inclusive society.”[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Branch, Mark Alden (April 2003). "Back in the Fold". Yale Alumni Magazine. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale". (Internet Archive). March 13, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2009. Cite error: The named reference "Kramer Initiative" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Jan, Tracy (June 3, 2009). "Harvard to endow professorship in gay studies". The Boston Globe. Retrieved June 3, 2009.
  4. ^ Floyd, Kevin (2009). The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism. University of Minnesota Press.
  5. ^ a b c McNaron, Toni A.H. Poisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confronting Homophobia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. ISBN 1566394880
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Steinberg, Jacques (June 3, 2009). "Harvard to Endow Chair in Gay Studies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  7. ^ "CCSF Educational Programs: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Studies Department". ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |accessadte= ignored (help)
  8. ^ "CCSF Educational Programs: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Studies Department - History". ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |accessadte= ignored (help)
  9. ^ a b Arenson, Karen W. (July 9, 1997). "Writing Own Script, Yale Refuses Kramer's Millions for Gay Studies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c Associated Press (June 3, 2009). "Harvard to Endow Chair in Gay, Lesbian Studies". Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  11. ^ "Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus: F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality". Retrieved June 4, 2009.

Further reading