Queer studies

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Not to be confused with Queer theory.

Queer studies, sexual diversity studies, or LGBT studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity usually focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex people and cultures.[1]

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,[2] philosophy, psychology, sexology, 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,[3] 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?'"[2]

Founding scholar of the discipline, the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Queer studies is not the same as queer theory, which is an analytical viewpoint within queer studies (centered on literary studies and philosophy) that challenges the putatively "socially constructed" categories of sexual identity.[2]


Though a new discipline, a growing number of colleges have begun offering academic programs related to sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation.[4] 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 at City College of San Francisco, the City University of New York, University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, SUNY Purchase College and New York University.[2] Other colleges that provide degrees in the subject include Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Yale University, University of California, Los Angeles, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Maryland, DePaul University, St. Andrews University, California State University Fullerton, California State University Northridge, Portland State University, and University of Toronto. Some colleges provide minors such as Oregon State University,[5] Syracuse University, Mills College, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisville, University of North Texas, and Grand Valley State University, and a certificate, such as the Five Colleges Consortium in Western Massachusetts.[6]

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.[7]


Lesbian and gay studies originated in the 1970s with the publication of several "seminal works of gay history. Inspired by ethnic studies, women's studies, and similar identity-based academic fields influenced by the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, 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.[2] Queer theory soon developed, challenging the "socially constructed" categories of sexual identity.[2]

The first undergraduate course in the United States on LGBTQ studies was taught at the University of California, Berkeley in the spring of 1970.[8] It was followed by similar courses in the fall of 1970 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL).[8] 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.[8]

According to Harvard University, the City University of New York began the first university program in gay and lesbian studies in 1986.[4][9] The City College of San Francisco claims to be the "First Queer Studies Department in the U.S.,"[10] 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.[10] Then-department chair Jonathan David Katz was the first tenured faculty in queer studies in the country.[3] Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York were among the first to offer a full-fledged major in LGBTQ Studies in the late 1990s and currently has one of the few tenure lines specifically in a stand-alone LGBT Studies program as a period when many are being absorbed into Women and Gender Studies programs.

Historians John Boswell and Martin Duberman made Yale University a notable center of lesbian and gay studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[2] 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.[2] However, Boswell died in 1994, and in 1991 Duberman left for the City University of New York, where he founded its Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.[2] 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.[2]

Yale–Kramer controversy[edit]

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 build a gay and lesbian student center.[9][11] His requirements were specific, as Yale was to use the money solely for "1) the study of and/or instruction in gay male literature..." including a tenured position, "and/or 2) the establishment of a gay student center at Yale..." [9]

With gender, ethnic and race-related studies still relatively new, then-Yale provost Alison Richard said that gay and lesbian studies was too narrow a specialty for a program in perpetuity,[9] indicating a wish to compromise on some of the conditions Kramer had asserted.[9] Negotiations broke down as Kramer, frustrated by what he perceived to be "homophobic" resistance, condemned the university in a front page story in The New York Times.[9][11] According to Kramer, he subsequently received letters from more than 100 institutions of higher learning "begging me to consider them."[9]

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.[2][12] The 5-year program aimed to bring in visiting faculty, host conferences and lectures, and coordinate academic endeavors in lesbian and gay studies.[2][12] 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.[2] He blamed institutionalised fear of alienating alumni of private universities, or legislators who fund public ones.[2] The Larry Kramer Initiative ended in 2006.

In June 2009, Harvard University announced that it will establish an endowed chair in LGBT studies.[4][9][13] Believing the post to be "the first professorship of its kind in the country,"[9] Harvard President Drew G. Faust called it “an important milestone.”[4][13] Funded by a $1.5 million gift from the members and supporters of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus,[14] 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[4][13] who chaired the undergraduate program in history and literature.[4] 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.”[4]

Academic Field of Queer Studies[edit]

The concept of perverse presentism is often taught in Queer Studies classes at universities. This is the understanding that LGBT history cannot and should not be analyzed through contemporary perspectives.[15]

Queer Studies at non-U.S. Universities[edit]

In 2003, the School of Public Health University at Fudan University in Shanghai, China opened its first course on homosexuality. The course is called Homosexual Health and Social Sciences and is designed to have a multi-disciplinary approach, with lectures focused on social sciences, humanities, and public health. Only one student was enrolled in 2003, but the course was open to the public and average attendance for that year was 89.9. The enrollment and average attendance in 2004 increased to 2 and 114, respectively.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 19, 2013. Retrieved July 12, 2013.  lists these names and similar acronyms at various academic departments.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Branch, Mark Alden (April 2003). "Back in the Fold". Yale Alumni Magazine. YaleAlumniMagazine.com. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale". Yale.edu (Internet Archive). March 13, 2007. Archived from the original on March 13, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Jan, Tracy (June 3, 2009). "Harvard to endow professorship in gay studies". The Boston Globe. Boston.com. Retrieved June 3, 2009. 
  5. ^ http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/slcs/wgss/academic-programs/queer-studies-oregon-state-university
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Floyd, Kevin (2009). The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism. University of Minnesota Press. 
  8. ^ a b c McNaron, Toni A.H. Poisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confronting Homophobia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. ISBN 1-56639-488-0
  9. ^ 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. NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b "CCSF Educational Programs: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Studies Department". CCSF.edu. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Arenson, Karen W. (July 9, 1997). "Writing Own Script, Yale Refuses Kramer's Millions for Gay Studies". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  12. ^ a b Arenson, Karen W. (April 2, 2001). "Gay Writer And Yale Finally Agree On Donation". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c Associated Press (June 3, 2009). "Harvard to Endow Chair in Gay, Lesbian Studies". FOXNews.com. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus: F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality". HGLC.org. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 
  15. ^ Gibson, Michelle (2013). Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies. SAGE Publications, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4522-3528-8. 
  16. ^ Yanning, Gao; Gu, Steven (2006). "The Course on Homosexuality at Fudan University: Make a "Hole" to "Borrow" Light from Humanities and Social Sciences for Public Health Education in Mainland China". Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education. 4 (3): 87–95. doi:10.1300/J367v03n04_08. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990
  • Halwani, Raja, Carol V. A. Quinn, and Andy Wible (Eds.) Queer Philosophy. Presentations of the Society for Lesbian and Gay Philosophy, 1998-2008. Amsterdam and New York, NY, Rodopi, 2012
  • McRuer, Robert (2006). "Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability", New York University Press.

External links[edit]