Last edited: March 29, 2004

Exhibit Explores Gay History at Yale

New Haven Register, February 8, 2004
Long Wharf-40 Sargent Dr., New Haven, CT 06511
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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 country.

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 low points.”

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 centuries past.

“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 race.”

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