Harvard University creates gay professorship role

BOSTON Wed Jun 3, 2009 7:44pm EDT

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Harvard University is creating an endowed professorship in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual studies, the first of its kind in the United States and reflecting a rise in sex-related academia nationwide.

The Ivy League school will invite visiting scholars to teach on sexuality and issues related to sexual minorities for one semester each, a Harvard official said on Wednesday.

While other universities have course offerings and degree programs in sexuality studies, Harvard's healthy endowment allows the professorship on the subject to be funded in perpetuity, the first university in the country to do so.

The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus raised $1.5 million to fund the role, to be known as the "F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality", named after American studies scholar and literary critic, F.O. Matthiessen.

Matthiessen, who died in 1950, chaired an undergraduate program in history and literature at Harvard, where he kept his homosexuality largely secret.

Harvard gave undergraduates the option in 2003 of concentrating on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues as an academic field, according to the university.

Academic programs related to sex, sexuality and sexual orientation are sprouting on American campuses -- from Yale University to the University of California Berkeley and the University of Minnesota.

"It's not so much that we've been able to raise this money, it's that Harvard and the faculty at Harvard have accepted this perpetual endowment for gay and lesbian studies," said Mitchell Adams of the Harvard Board of Overseers, one of two governing boards at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school.

The position indicates growing acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Adams added.

Candace Gingrich, a youth outreach manager at gay-rights advocates the Human Rights Campaign, said the new role gives students in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community something to aspire to.

"Any time a university as renowned as Harvard feels it is important and sees it is important to have an endowed professorship in LGBT studies is recognition that it is an important issue," said Gingrich, sister of former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

(Editing by Jason Szep and Philip Barbara)

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