- The Intersection of Queer Theory and Empirical Methods:Visions for CLAGS, the Center for LGBTQ Studies
In 1991 Martin Duberman and his colleagues founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the Graduate Center in the City University of New York (CUNY). Since its inception, CLAGS has been at the forefront of queer studies, promoting the study of historical, cultural, and political issues of vital concern to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and communities. For twenty-five years, CLAGS has sponsored groundbreaking public programs and conferences; has offered fellowships and scholarships to academics, artists, and students; and has functioned as an indispensable conduit of information. As the first university-based LGBTQ research center in the United States, CLAGS (which was rebranded in 2014 as CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies) has served as a national center for the promotion of queer and trans* studies.
For decades, CLAGS has been a haven for many queer theorists—from the CLAGS founder Martin Duberman to Kessler Award Winners (e.g., Judith Butler, Jonathan Ned Katz, Susan Stryker) to past CLAGS board members (e.g., José Esteban Muñoz, Lisa Duggan, and Gayatri Gopinath). Queer theorists aim to challenge the conceptualizations of what is legitimate and acceptable. CLAGS has been a place where people question how “normal” is conceived in society (through gender binaries, sexualities, politics, behavior) while celebrating what is “queer” (applauding that which is different while validating experiences of the oppressed). Queer theorists recognize that systemic heterosexism, sexism, and transphobia are embedded throughout society and that it is imperative to change the ways that scholars approach research, so as to not condone heteronormative and cis-sexist male approaches as the only methods of inquiry. [End Page 301]
Without the queering of methods of the past, there would be a dearth of LGBTQ academic literature today. If scholars in LGBTQ studies (including those involved with CLAGS for the past twenty-five years) had merely focused on rigid scientific methods as ways of rejecting null hypotheses, it is probable that there would be little academic writing about LGBTQ people. Participant samples would never be large enough, resulting in low effect sizes and few analyses that would be considered scientifically robust. If previous researchers had limited themselves to measures normed on samples of white, heterosexual, and cisgender men, it is likely that LGBTQ people (and others) would continue to be stereotyped as abnormal, inferior to the dominant groups, or both.
Over the years, CLAGS’s approach to queering methods has been multifaceted. First, through public programs CLAGS encourages dialogue with people affiliated with the academy, as well as those who are not. In doing so, CLAGS offers CUNY students a queer education in that they learn not just from professors and textbooks but also from community members from multiple educational backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences. Concurrently, CLAGS also queers education for individuals without scholastic opportunities, who now have access to learn about theoretical concepts that they might not ever be exposed to otherwise. For instance, since 1998, the CLAGS Seminar in the City series has allowed community members to take weekly classes, taught by a professor, on some topic related to LGBTQ studies. Often, the topic is one that is not offered by traditional academic institutions, such as “Queering the Crip/ Cripping the Queer: Introduction to Queer and Disability Studies” in 2003.
CLAGS has also queered research methods to reframe the narrative of LGBTQ research. For centuries, non-LGBTQ-identified researchers studied individuals who were deemed to have nontraditional sexual orientations and gender identities in pathologizing and harmful ways. Scientists performed castrations, lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and other heinous acts to “cure” people of their “disorders.” It was not until 1973 that “homosexuality” was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) on psychiatric disorders. And while no longer labeled “gender identity disorder,” the current DSM still includes gender dysphoria among the list of disorders. CLAGS encourages research to be conducted by LGBTQ people (and non-LGBTQ people who are LGBTQ-affirming) and to focus on the various strengths [End Page 302] of LGBTQ individuals and communities. While it is valid and important...