Open Door: Colleges Gives Gays New Welcome

Article excerpt

There are many places where gay rights laws are anathema, where gay literature ignites bitter controversy, where gay meeting places are banished to the shadows.

And then, there's Rutgers University.

Here students can live in a gay dorm. An assistanat dean looks after gay students. Student fees go to groups promoting gay concerns. Rutgers has a gay alumni association and gay archives. The school is committed to rooting out gay-bashing in any form and promoting tolerance.

"It seems like the community is doing all it can to help them fit in and not be a freak of nature," says Matthew Klain, 20, a mathematics major. "Just like, `It's OK.'"

Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, is not some lone gay oasis on the U.S. academic scene. Far from it.

Rutgers is among hundreds of schools - public and private, secular and religious - that are introducing homosexuality to academic discourse and making their campuses hospitable to gays.

Colleges often serve as incubators for the changes churning American society at large. In this case, it's part of the shift from ostracizing to accepting gays - a shift that seems to be moving forward, despite organized opposition from the religious right and other sectors.

At Rutgers and elsewhere, even the language for homosexuals has changed. Now it's "lesbian, gay and bisexual." Or lesbian-gay-bi. Or LGB, for short.

And queer theory is no insult. It's a scholarly pursuit for the meaning of sexual desire and gender in society, and the language used to talk about it.

"The whole flowering effervesence of gay and lesbian studies is a part of the development of our notions of gender and sexuality," said John DeCecco, a psychology professor at San Francisco State University.

DeCecco, 68, is the editor of The Journal of Homosexuality. He inaugurated his university's two-year-old minor in Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Studies and runs its human sexuality studies program. He estimates that 200 students enroll in those program courses at any one time on the campus of 25,000.

"We once believed gender and sexuality were physical, for making babies or for pleasure, in a limited sense," said DeCecco. "We're now realizing it has other dimensions: psychological and erotic, historical and cultural."

Even aside from studies, college campuses are throwing an ivy cloak around those who once lived in hiding or confusion and fear of being found out.

"I wish I was in college now, instead of when I was," said Curtis Shepard, 37, campus organizer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. …