Harvard Establishes First LGBTQ Faculty Position in the United States

Harvard officially established the first endowed faculty position for LGBTQ studies in the nation on Wednesday.

Henry D. Abelove ’66, who retired as an English professor from Wesleyan University in 2011, will serve as the first F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality, a one-semester position that is responsible for teaching classes on LGBTQ issues. The chaired professorship is the result of a $1.5 million endowment that was raised by efforts of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus.

“I was interested in Matthiessen and had written about him, so I was thrilled to be given this position,” said Abelove of the storied Harvard English professor, who was also openly gay. “My goals here are to teach my courses well, to find ways to be intellectually useful on campus.”

Lecturer on History and Literature Timothy P. McCarthy ‘93, who has served on the HGLC board since 2006, coordinated the event that honored Abelove as the first Matthiessen visiting professor.

“Since the HGLC took part in the fundraising for the creation of the Matthiessen Chair, I thought it was really important that we have something to welcome professor Abelove back to Harvard after all these years,” McCarthy said. “It’s a big achievement to have raised $1.5 million to endow a chaired professorship.”

In a casual, open conversation meant to also serve as his official welcome to the University, Abelove spoke about his work with LGBTQ studies and invited participants to engage in discussion about its history and evolution. In particular, Abelove touched on the changes in the LGBTQ life at Harvard since his graduation in 1966 and the role of social networking in today’s LGBTQ dating scene.

McCarthy said that the event, co-sponsored by Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and the Carr Center’s Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program, was meant to promote more critical discussions on campus and to also create another space for students and faculty to talk about gender and sexuality issues.

“The institutionalization of gender and sexuality studies has been a slow coming. Here at Harvard, we have yet to achieve departmental status,” McCarthy said. “Events like these are just meant to create another space for us to talk about how these issues intersect with women and gender studies.”

Under the Matthiessen professorship, Harvard is able to invite scholars studying LGBTQ-related issues to teach as part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for one semester. Professors will be chosen with the input of faculty members, who will nominate other potential candidates for the chairship.

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.

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