George Chauncey (born 1954) is a professor of history at Yale University. He is best known as the author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (1994).
Life and works
Chauncey received his B.A. (1977) and Ph.D. (1989) in history from Yale University, where he studied with Nancy Cott and David Montgomery. From 1991 to 2006, he taught in the Department of History at the University of Chicago, rising from assistant professor to full professor of history. In 2006, he joined the Yale faculty.
His book Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1930 (1994) was published to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellions. It combined social, political, and cultural history, and in it Chauncey argues that early twentieth century New York had a thriving, open gay culture. Using newspaper accounts from a wide variety of mainstream and underground publications, the archives of reform organizations, police and court records, popular cartoons and caricatures, guidebooks, and maps, Chauncey offers a rich and textured account of urban gay life. The book was acclaimed for several original findings, among them the malleability of sexual identities (he finds, for example, widespread acceptance of homosexual practices among working-class, heteronormative men), the use of house concerts as covers for sexual activity, a discussion of the "panzy craze", and the relative novelty of the category of "closeted" gay men. According to Chauncey, it was not until the 1930s and afterward that a strict regime of policing gay male sexuality emerged. It was in this period, he contends, that homosexual behavior began to move underground.
Chauncey has written a historical defense of the concept of gay marriage. He is currently finishing a history of gay New York from the mid-twentieth century to the present.
Chauncey is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.
Chauncey has testified as an expert witness in several major gay rights cases, and he was the organizer and lead author of the Historians' Amicus Brief in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which weighed heavily in the Supreme Court's landmark decision overturning the nation's remaining sodomy laws. In that brief, Chauncey argued for the historical specificity of understandings of sodomy, challenging the reasoning in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) that antisodomy laws were an enduring feature of the American legal system.
Chauncey most notably testified as an expert witness in the California Proposition 8 case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, on behalf of the successful plaintiffs. In the Perry case, the Court found him to be "qualified to offer testimony on social history, especially as it relates to gays and lesbians." The court recounted his academic qualifications, citing his CV, his authorship of books, and original research using primary sources. The decision cited Chauncey's testimony on a dozen issues of fact or points of law that were relevant to the case.
- Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995. 496 pp. ISBN 0-465-02621-4
- Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality. Basic Books, 2005. 224 pp. ISBN 0-465-00958-1
- http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0308/features/index.shtml. Accessed March 5, 2012.
- Perry v. Schwarzenegger, at 20-21, 29-30, 71, 85, 93, 96, 97, 99-110, 134. Found at on MSNBC media website, at pp. 22-23, 31-32, 73, 87, 95, 98, 99, 101-111, 136. Accessed August 4, 2010.
- Chauncey's Yale History Department page
- Cover story on Chauncey in the University of Chicago alumni magazine
- Washington Post op-ed "What Gay Studies Taught the Court" on how historians helped overturn Bowers v. Hardwick