History of the Caucus

Starting in the late '70s, self-styled gay and lesbian alumni/ae groups were formed in San Francisco (Sons of Harvard), Boston (Lesbian Alumnae of Radcliffe College, Harvard University Gays), New York City, and Washington, D.C. With information-sharing facilitated by the new "Gay Harvard Alumni Newsletter," they provided increasing visible support for the gay and lesbian student groups that had been struggling to establish themselves on campus since 1970.

In May 1981, the Harvard Faculty Council rejected a motion that would have protected students and faculty from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Out of this event the prospective Harvard GLBT community began its political organizing in earnest."
In 1982, the Informal Special Committee to Harvard University on the Status of Gay Men and Lesbians was established to open a dialogue with the Harvard administration concerning discrimination on campus and adoption of a university-wide non-discrimination policy. 
The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus was founded in June 1984 with the aim of committing Harvard University to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy.

In 1985, after two years of meetings between Caucus members and Harvard administrators, the President and Fellows of Harvard College promulgated a University-wide anti-discrimination policy, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 1987 the Caucus established a charitable foundation, The Open Gate, a Fund for Gay and Lesbian Life at Harvard University.

In 1993, after years of lobbying by the Caucus, Harvard extended benefits to same-sex partners of its employees.

In 1994, the Caucus launched The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review (now known as the Gay & Lesbian Review / Worldwide), a bi-monthly review of literature and ideas.

The Caucus worked to end all Harvard involvement with ROTC because the program bars open gays, lesbians and bisexuals. In February 1995, after criticism by the Caucus of an earlier proposal, Harvard announced the end of its financial support for ROTC. Since 1998 the Caucus has urged Harvard to bar military recruiting from its placement offices so long as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” continues.  For most of this period Harvard Law School has barred recruiters but in 2005 it was forced to rescind the ban under the threat of Harvard losing hundreds of millions in federal funding. 

In 1995, Thomas Parry, AB '74, became the first openly gay or lesbian elected member of the Board of Directors of the Harvard Alumni Association, with the support of the Caucus and its alumni/ae members.

With ongoing funding from The Open Gate, in 1996 the Caucus helped launch the BGLTSA (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Association) Resource Center in Harvard Yard. Staffed by students, the Center provides a much-needed gathering space for the undergraduate LGBT community.

Since 1997, Harvard College, at the suggestion of the Caucus, has asked each residential House to appoint a tutor to serve as a resource for students with questions or concerns relating to issues of sexual orientation. The BGLTS Advisors (Tutors and Proctors) now play a significant role in undergraduate life. 

In 1997, the Caucus at last persuaded Harvard to nominate an openly gay or lesbian candidate for its Board of OverseersSheila Kuehl, JD '78, at the time Speaker Pro Tempore of the California State Assembly, now State Senator, was elected for a two-year term. In 1999, she was reelected for a six-year term. In 2005, Caucus member, Mitchell Adams, AB ’66, MBA ’69, was elected to a six-year term to the Board of Overseers, becoming the first openly gay male Overseer of Harvard University. The Caucus worked actively for the election of both Kuehl and Adams. 

In 1997, The Memorial Church opened its doors for the first time to same-sex commitment ceremonies.

In 1998, the Caucus was delighted to welcome then partners, now married, Professor Diana Eck and Dr. Dorothy Austin as Co-Masters of Lowell House. They received the Caucus' Visibility Award at the 1998 Annual Commencement Dinner. This was the first time that an openly gay or lesbian person had been named as the Master of a Harvard House, and the first time that a same-sex couple had been named Co-Masters.

Also in 1998, Harvard Magazine published the article "Gay Like Me", by Andrew Tobias, AB ’68, MBA ‘72, in the January/February issue. This set off a storm of letters in the March/April, May/June, and even the July/August issues.

With funding from The Open Gate the Caucus launched its annual Public Service Fellowship in 2000, allowing any current full-time Harvard undergraduate or graduate student to pursue a public service initiative for the larger GLBT community.

In November 2003, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (the home of Harvard College) voted unanimously to establish the degree-granting Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality, for the first time providing a home for gay and lesbian studies at Harvard. The program was launched in academic year 2004-2005, becoming the first year that students could concentrate (major) in gender and sexuality studies.

In 2005, the Caucus became a Shared Interest Group of the Harvard Alumni Association.  The affiliation agreement guaranteed the Caucus’ independence while providing for cooperation with the HAA and access to its services.

In 2006, after nine years of lobbying by the Caucus, the President and Fellows of Harvard College amended the University-wide anti-discrimination policy to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity, thus providing protection for transgender and gender-variant students, faculty and staff.

In June 2007, the Caucus launched a $1.5 million funding campaign to endow the F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship in Gender and Sexuality. The resulting endowment allows the University to regularly invite eminent scholars studying issues related to sexuality and BGLTQ studies.

In September 2008, the Caucus marked its Silver Anniversary by holding the first ever pan-Harvard LGBT celebration, featuring panels on a range of political, cultural, historical, and scientific topics, performances and film screenings, museum visits, and interactions with Harvard’s diverse LGBT community. The weekend provided an opportunity to reflect on what had changed us, both at Harvard and in the larger world, as well as to celebrate the accomplishments of Harvard’s BGLTQ alumni/ae, students, faculty and staff.  

At Commencement in June 2009, the Caucus announced the successful completion of the Matthiessen Professorship funding campaign.  The resulting endowment enables the university to regularly invite eminent scholars studying issues related to sexuality -- that is, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- or to sexuality, to teach at Harvard College for one semester every year or two semesters every other year.

In 2012/13 academic year, Henry Abelove, Ph.D. was appointed the first Matthiessen Visiting Professor.  Dr. Gayle Rubin, Ph.D. followed in 2012/13 as the second Matthiessen Visiting Professor. 

In 2014, the Caucus changed its name to the Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus to better reflect the wide diversity of our membership