Integrating the Gay and Straight

NEW HAVEN--The scene: Atticus, one of those bookstore-cafes where chic people gather over cappacino and Kant. Matthew J. Reich, in his white and gray shirt, thin silver tie, and gray pin-stripe pants, looks as if he has just stepped off the pages of GQ. He blends in nicely with the wet slate-gray of the New Haven sidewalk outside.

He is talking about what he calls "the freshman walk."

"They walk by and then back, look in, and run to the door, hoping no one saw."

The freshpeople, as they are called at Yale, have perfected this walk in order to avoid being seen entering a meeting of one of Yale's many homosexual student organizations, some of which are weekly support groups, others, political.

Students differ on how thoroughly homosexuality is integrated into the Yale social scene, but agree that it is relatively easy to be openly gay at the New Haven school. On a recent weekend, as rain soaked the Gothic campus, many students discussed their experiences within the social fabric of Yale.

Reich, the co-coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Cooperative, the umbrella organization for such groups as the Yalesbians and the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Unsure meetings, is willing--even eager--to discuss his life as a gay student at Yale.

In recent weeks the gay population at Yale has been put in the spotlight, as The Wall Street Journal published an article in August stating that the university is gaining a reputation as a gay school. Almost everyone on the New Haven campus, including administrators and gay and straight students, disagrees, saying The Journal's figure of one in four students being gay is more than double the accurate count.

"One side of me says that would be wonderful," Reich, a senior, says of the 25 percent statistic. "There's another side that says I live in a homophobic society, and it would not be good for Yale. It would be detrimental for the gay community because we would be attacked."

Reich says he was homophobic when he entered Yale in the fall of 1984. "I was terribly homophobic to the point that it was obvious I must be gay." During his freshman year the Pennsylvania native was second in command in Yale's Party of the Right, a conservative extremist political organization. In April of his freshman year, he came out.

Now Reich is one of the most active students on campus, writing and directing plays, announcing sports games, teaching high school students SAT prep courses, giving campus tours, taking seven courses this semester, and sleeping two to three hours a night.

Occasionally a student or a parent on a Yale tour asks him if there is a preponderance of homosexual students, he says. "If you're not ready for different ideas, political thought, if you're not ready for different ideologies, then you're not ready for Yale. In fact, you're not ready for college," he tells them.

For the most part, Reich says, Yale is open and accepting of homosexual students, and the monthly Gay and Lesbian Co-op-sponsored dances are the best attended parties on campus, attracting both gay and straight students. But being gay at Yale is not without problems, he says.

"Many will say it's chic to be gay at Yale," he says. "I certainly dismiss that. I'm not winning any popularity contests, certainly not for my sexuality."

A couple of hours later on a Friday night, after Reich has gone to see "The Color Purple" with a friend, the scene has changed.

Now it's a typical college happy hour in the common room of Davenport, one of Yale's residential colleges. Davenport is the schizophrenic college, with fake Gothic architecture on the street side and fake Georgian architecture on the courtyard side. A bell tower rises from the spires.