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Gay studies flourishes on campuses

More universities offer degree programs and have classes on such topics as marriage and gays in the military.

September 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Before he transferred to San Francisco State University, Emo Loredo knew only a few other openly gay students.

So he was pleasantly surprised when he discovered his new college offered not only dozens of classes on gay issues, but an undergraduate minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies.

"One of the things I've learned is that homosexuality was around way back in ancient times," said Loredo, 24, who enrolled this semester in a sociology class called Queer Cultures and Society. "Before, I thought homosexuality was started in the early 1970s."

Years after creating a smattering of gay-related classes, more than two dozen U.S. universities are offering minors in gay studies and expanding the field to include disciplines across the college curriculum.

Issues such as same-sex marriage and gays in the military have fueled interest in the programs, which have been established, among other places, at Ivy League institutions Yale and Cornell as well as DePaul University in Chicago, one of the nation's largest Catholic schools.

At least 30 public and private colleges offer multidiscipline minors in gay studies; the majority of the programs started in the last three years. And 16 schools let undergraduates earn certificates or pursue concentrated studies in gay topics.

San Francisco State was one of the first U.S. schools to explore the scholarly potential of gay subjects, starting with an English course in 1972. Now students can choose from classes such as Homophobia and Coming Out, Gay Love in Literature and Queer Art History.

John G. Younger, a University of Kansas professor who maintains a website devoted to gay studies, said Duke University in Durham, N.C., even offered an anthropology course on "queerness in advertising."

The rise of specialized degree programs has been driven by endowments from gay alumni, the research of openly gay professors and demands from students who are coming out of the closet at younger ages, experts say.

Steven Seidman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Albany, said he also had observed a shift in the kind of students who took gay studies classes.

In the past, Seidman said, the courses drew primarily straight women and a handful of gay or lesbian students, almost all of them white. Now the classes attract scholars of varying races who often refuse to accept traditional labels of sexual orientation and gender, he said.

At San Francisco State, sociology professor Jennifer Reck said she had 55 students vying to get into Queer Cultures and Society. She had to turn at least 10 away.

On the first day, she asked students to share why they enrolled.

Tony Foster, 41, said he was looking for material for his master's thesis on graphic design and civil disobedience. Patricia Chiquet, 23, an international student from Switzerland, said she was fascinated by the subject of sex-change surgery.

Carla Haggard, 24, who moved from the Bible Belt five years ago and became the nanny for the child of a lesbian couple, said she wanted to help fight discrimination against same-sex couples and educate her own relatives.

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