Exhibit Explores Gay History at Yale
Haven Register, February 8, 2004
Long Wharf-40 Sargent Dr., New Haven, CT 06511
By William Kaempffer , Register staff
NEW HAVEN—If any man lyeth with
mankind as hee (sic) lyeth with woman, both of them have committed
abomination, they both shall surely be put to death.”
“That’s pretty serious stuff,” said historian
Jonathan Ned Katz after reciting the 1642 Connecticut sodomy law. “There has
been some progress made.”
Indeed, a new historical exhibit opened Saturday at Yale
University chronicling lesbian and gay life at Yale and in Connecticut over
the last three centuries.
Officials at Yale’s Larry Kramer Initiative believe the
collection is the most comprehensive, if not perhaps the only, of its kind in
The collection contains exhibits running from 1642 to the
present, exploring tolerance and intolerance, progress and setbacks of gay
life at Yale and beyond.
Jonathan D. Katz, the executive coordinator of the Larry
Kramer Initiative and Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale, called it an
“unvarnished” look at history.
“It’s been an enormous effort,” said Katz, who is
not related to the historian. “It looks at the high points as well as the
Jonathan Ned Katz, who described process as recovering
“lost history,” and some Yale graduate students spent 1½ years compiling
the information and made some surprising discoveries.
Researchers found old diary entries from Yale students,
explaining in personal terms what it meant to be gay at Yale in decades and
“We certainly didn’t know about Sterling,” said
Katz, the executive coordinator.
Alumni John William Sterling donated $15 million to Yale
after his death in 1918. Sterling Memorial Library and the Sterling Law
Buildings were named in his honor.
Researchers discovered diary entries from Sterling from
his days at Yale.
During the opening of the exhibit, Larry Kramer absorbed
the moment. A 1957 graduate of Yale College, Kramer made his reputation as the
author and playwright and founded the gay advocacy group.
In 1997, he offered Yale $5 million to create an endowed
professorship in gay studies. Yale officials turned him down.
But in 2001, he and Yale mended fences and he agreed to
donate his papers and manuscripts to the university, while his brother Arthur,
also a Yale graduate, donated $1 million for the Larry Kramer Initiative for
Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale.
“Ten years ago, I didn’t think I would see today
happen,” Kramer said of the exhibit.
During his years at Yale, the college was a very friendly
place, “if you weren’t gay.”
“If you had the awful, dark secrets in your life, it
was a terrifying place,” he said.
Today, he described the university as “phenomenal”
and couldn’t ask for a more supportive benefactor.
“It’s a testament to all of us. It’s been hard work
on everyone’s part. It gives you faith. It gives you faith in the human
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