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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joseph A. Herzenberg, November 1, 2000. Interview K-0196. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Homophobia at Yale and the ameliorative effects of co-education

Herzenberg remembers a great deal of homophobia in the undergraduate population at Yale University, where he earned his BA at a time when the university was still all-male. Its influence was so pervasive that even years later, Herzenberg knows of only four men from his class who are openly gay. He believes that the presence of women at Yale ameliorated this atmosphere of discrimination.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Joseph A. Herzenberg, November 1, 2000. Interview K-0196. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Well, remember I was long out of college when this happened, so what I am going to say is not so much based on direct personal experience as what I have heard from other people or what I know has happened in other places. No, I went to a college [Yale] where there were 4,000 male undergraduates. And where there was an incredible amount of homophobia. I don't remember ever having a conversation that dealt with homosexuality, for the four years that I was in college. Even to this day, almost forty years later, of the thousand men who were in my class, only about four of us have come out.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Wow. Did any of them ever say that they had been sexually active in that all male environment?
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
No. There was even a gay bar in New Haven that I used to go to and didn't—I mean, it was like these ones in Chapel Hill that became gay bars after nine or ten O'clock at night.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
I went there for it's rice pudding and didn't even know until years later that it was a gay bar late at night. So Anyway, my point is that when Yale went co-educational, the presence of women and, you know, in a few years, a large number of women, made it much easier for gay men to be out. I don't quite know how that works.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Interesting.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
But I do believe very strongly that it does work. It may simply be that women are less homophobic than men, I don't know. And I believe that the presence of large numbers of women certainly helped the undergraduate gay organization. That is, they were—because women were very important members of CGA, CGLA, whatever increasingly as women became more numerous. There was even for a while a sort of separatist lesbian organization—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
At UNC?
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Yes, it wasn't called that, it was just a women's organization.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
[Laughter] A separatist lesbian organization. I never heard of that.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
But it was dominated by lesbians, I would guess, for four or five years. My god, but what it was called I don't know. After all of these years.