Friday, August 26, 2011

The Gays Take Over Higher Education

To my surprise and delight, over one-quarter of my higher education cohort in graduate school is lesbian or gay! I love it. I learned this last night at an LGBTQ Welcome Reception that the Graduate School of Education held for incoming students. There were professors, administrators and PhD students there to welcome us into the community, and it really did feel like a community (yet another benefit of gayness that I should add to my manifesto on why gay is glorious...!)

Eight of us went out to dinner afterwards, and we talked about why that is--why for the 650+ Ed School students overall, LGBT folks are only 4% of the population (as self-reported in a poll during orientation) but within the Higher Ed strand, 28% are lesbian or gay.

The common wisdom of the group was that higher education has been a safer place than most other professions over the past three decades. One of my classmates pointed out that during the AIDS crisis in the 80s, colleges and universities were some of the few places that gay men could get good health insurance. Others noted that institutions of higher ed have tended to be more liberal and accepting places. Another point was that since college is a time when many young people come out, it has made sense to have LGBT staff there for support and mentorship.

I am eager to learn more about how LGBT administrators have navigated working in higher ed. Higher ed is certainly a safe place now (in most cities), but as Professor Hehir shares in the video below, when he was in his twenties, beginning work as a teacher in the 1970s, it was "terrifying ... coming out, knowing that I could easily be fired simply for being gay." He and other teachers marched in Boston's Pride parade in 1978 with bags over their heads for fear of recognition and reprisal.

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