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Why they call Yale the "Gay Ivy"

Editors' note

Yale has been widely known as the Gay Ivy since at least 1987, when Julie V. Iovine ’77 declared in the Wall Street Journal, "Suddenly Yale is a gay school." She didn't offer serious evidence, but she had evidently hit on something true, because the concept stuck. Today, Yale's reputation as the Gay Ivy is familiar to most students and younger alumni -- it's even included in Yale's entry on Wikipedia, that useful guide to the common wisdom.

What does "the Gay Ivy" mean? It's not that Yale is a minority-heterosexual school. You have only to visit campus in the springtime to see boy-girl romance blooming all over, ubiquitous as ever.

Yale probably does, however, have a higher proportion of gay students than other Ivies; there are no statistics, but many gay Yale students think it's true. And if you walk around campus for a while on your visit, you may see a gay couple holding hands. For the central point of the Gay Ivy tag is that Yale is a gay-friendly school. The campus is unusually welcoming to gay and lesbian students and has an active, multifaceted gay social scene.

How did this happen? Not through a strategic plan. Yale was one of the last Ivies to create an office of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) resources. The current administration is gay-friendly, but Yale administrators historically have not sought to push the envelope on these issues.

Nor was Yale's reputation created through alumni activism. Yale GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni) just held its first reunion, and the prominent gay alumni who spoke included Bruce Cohen ’83, producer of Milk, and Larry Kramer ’57, author of The Normal Heart. Margaret Marshall ’76JD, who wrote the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, is also an alum. But Yale has many alumni who oppose pro-gay policies, such as Heather Mac Donald ’78, who criticized Yale in the Weekly Standard for starting the LGBTQ resources office; Maggie Gallagher ’82, president of the National Organization for Marriage; and the Right Reverend John Guernsey ’75, who joined his flock with the Anglican Church of Uganda after the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop.

Rather, it was gay students themselves who changed Yale. For most of the twentieth century, Yale was a terrible place to be gay. Many alumni who attended the GALA reunion had been so unhappy as students that they'd never before returned to campus. In an essay adapted from his keynote at the GALA reunion, Yale historian George Chauncey ’77, ’89PhD, sketches that early history of alienation and traces how decades of effort by Yale's gay students drove a cultural shift. Then four personal "memoirs from the evolution" show us the shift as it played out in the lives of four Yale alumni, from the classes of 1977 through 2009.

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