From the Editor

What readers said about the “Gay Ivy”

Five years ago I received a letter from a reader, evidently elderly. “You are female, Class of ’81,” she wrote, “and have no idea of the real meaning of what Yale has stood for.” She didn't explain.

Editors of alumni magazines sometimes cause pain. They have little if any influence over reality on campus, but much over image and perception. When an article in an alumni magazine clashes with readers' memories and ideals, editors may get letters that sound as if the readers feel their actual mothers were insulted, not their alma mater.

Our last cover story, “Why They Call Yale the 'Gay Ivy,'” clashed with the memories and ideals of many alumni. We received more unhappy letters and comments than for any other story in recent years. One alumnus left a furious voice mail declaring, “All you women” should “get the fuck out of Yale.” Another wrote me personally to say that he suspected “a very strong vested interest.” (I take it he thinks I'm gay, but I'll let him Google me.)

And yet we also received more joyous letters and comments than for any other story in recent years. They included: “I have rarely been as moved reading the magazine,” “Hearty congratulations,” and “I'm prouder of being a Yalie now than I have ever been.” The counts of pro- and anti-gay letters are neck-and-neck. There's even a certain balance to the content. One reader was mortified that his postman saw the issue; another was so proud of it that he showed it to people he'd never shown the magazine to before. One worried that the issue would discourage straight people from applying to Yale; another thought it would be a selling point. Several people complained, for religious reasons. Several people celebrated, for religious reasons.

The median age of the pros is about 52; of the antis, about 75. Many pros are straight, and one anti had “struggled with homosexual desires.”

All this may help answer the question some writers asked: why publish 16 pages on the history of gays at Yale, knowing conservative alumni might be offended? For the same reason we published 22 pages on William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, knowing liberal alumni might be offended. We serve a readership that spans the spectrum in age, politics, religious affiliation, race, cultural heritage. We don't enjoy causing pain or polarizing our readers. But if we suppressed or downplayed topics that some alumni find important, for the sake of some who object, we would soon have nothing of interest or consequence left to say.

We're an unusual alumni magazine -- run not by Yale, but by a small nonprofit. We're charged to report on Yale “in all its complexity.” This is important here for two reasons. First, those who wrote that they would never again donate to Yale should know that what we publish is our responsibility -- not Yale's. Hold us to blame. And second: all alumni -- whatever they think about gays or Buckley -- should keep in mind that an independent alumni magazine honors its readers' intelligence, puts their interests first, and will never overlook or gloss over any campus issue or controversy the alumni should know about.

In 1951, Buckley excoriated this very magazine for ignoring major issues on campus: “The editor has made it clear that controversy is out, ” and therefore, the magazine “presents very little grist for opinion or discussion.” If there's one thing Yale alumni might agree on, it is the value of opinion and discussion. The Yale Alumni Magazine has a responsibility not to shy away from controversy. That responsibility has everything to do with the real meaning of Yale.    

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