On the Job
Copyright ©1987 Arthur S. Lazere
Note: This article was published
in independent lesbian and gay newspapers across the United States in 1987.
Professors: Gays and Lesbians in Academia
One of a Series - Sharon Rafael, Sociologist
By Arthur Lazere
Sharon Raphael, Ph.D.,
45, speaks slowly and softly. But don't be fooled. She is a woman of determination.
Raphael has been on
the faculty of California State University Dominguez Hills since 1970.
A sociologist, she moved to southern California from Cleveland where she
had completed all but the dissertation required for her doctorate at Case
Western Reserve University.
At Dominguez Hills,
Raphael had a student who was active in one of the first social service
organizations for lesbians in the country, located in Los Angeles. "I loved
that place!" Raphael enthuses, "We had a storefront with the name across
the front - Gay Women's Service Center. We were in the phone book, although
the telephone company kept threatening to take the name out. There were
so many people trying to connect, the phone would ring off the hook."
Raphael changed the
subject of her dissertation to "Coming Out - The Emergence of a Movement
Lesbian." She interviewed many of the women from the Gay Women's Service
Center and told their stories.
"My dissertation advisors
at Case were real upset about it," she recalls, "I was trying to get away
from the deviance model. They were invested in their work which always
classified gays as deviants. I didn't want to use that perspective. I wanted
to use the new literature that was coming out. They didn't understand what
I was doing. I was very much influenced by the new times. What was unique
was that I was an insider sociologist. I was writing about my people.
"There was another
lesbian scholar who did research on gays and publicly claimed to be straight.
I thought that was so unethical and knew that if I did research in this
area it would be as an upfront lesbian. It would be to help the gay community.
I had the support of the women I interviewed. They trusted me because I
was one of them." Her thesis was accepted.
Raphael, who comes
from a working-class Jewish family, knew she was attracted to women when
she was still a child. "I looked up 'homosexual' in the dictionary when
I was eight years old," she says. As she matured, in those pre-Stonewall
days, her exposure to other lesbians was limited and the women she met
were deeply closeted.
"I was disturbed and
confused when I observed a lesbian couple who had male escorts take them
out, men who acted as covers for their lesbianism," Raphael says.
Raphael was open about
being gay from the start of her career at Dominguez Hills. She felt that
"history was on my side. It was so exciting. Gay liberation was in full
Because Dominguez Hills
was a new school then, she felt less threatened about being open. All of
the faculty were new; there was no entrenched hierarchy. "My colleagues
were my age and younger," she recalls, "We were all embarked on what we
thought were great adventures. Many of them had an activist leaning on
one issue or another. There was a live and let live feeling. Still, when
I came out, there was gossip. The secretaries and some students were scandalized.
But I was so caught up in the movement that I could only think of what
was right for me.
"I had been so confused
for so many years. I felt so good. I was warned by some closeted gays on
campus. They were interested in what I was doing, but they were very frightened.
They had a lot of self-hatred and internalized homophobia...The administration
didn't want to deal with any of it. They left me alone."
Professors are expected,
of course, to do research and publish on a continuing basis. Raphael says,
"One of the problems I have as an academic is that I've done most of my
published work in gay studies and on gay and lesbian aging issues. I have
had work published in mainstream journals, but most of us who do this work
publish in the Journal of Homosexuality and other nontraditional
publications. While the publications are nontraditional, they operate in
a mainstream way with peer review, committees of Ph.D.s, editorial boards,
and so forth. Yet I know that when some of my colleagues review the promotion
files, they discount anything with the word 'gay' on it."
Raphael is the faculty
advisor to the lesbian and gay student organization on campus. She also
teaches at least one course each year on a gay subject, ranging from aging
(her specialty), to health issues (including AIDS), gay and lesbian families,
and the gay movement. She was a founder and co-chair of the National Association
of Lesbian and Gay Gerontology.
Raphael and her lover
of fifteen years, Mina Meyer, attend all school functions together as a
couple, a deliberate political statement. Several years back, Raphael approached
the dean in charge of personnel matters to request that Meyer get the fringe
benefits that faculty spouses receive. The dean was sympathetic, but Kaiser
Permanente, the medical provider, turned them down, refusing to recognize
an unmarried couple.
Recently, Meyer has
been teaching part time at Dominguez Hills. She was originally hired by
an unrelated person, but a subsequent administrative shuffling resulted
in her position coming under Raphael's authority. Despite their inability
to qualify as a couple for benefits purposes, they were now told that Meyer
could not be hired by Raphael because it would be nepotism. Catch 22 lives
on. Finally, Meyer was rehired through another department.
Of about 300 faculty
members at Dominguez Hills, Raphael estimates that more than 60 are gay.
She is the only full-time teacher who is openly and for-the-record gay.
She thinks that others stay closeted because they are ambitious within
the power structure of the school. They are not afraid of being fired,
but fear for their status and influence with the administration and other
faculty. "I don't have that kind of status," Raphael says, "and I don't
"I assumed when I came
out," she continues, "that others would join me, that I wouldn't be alone
sixteen years later. If you had said to me that I'd still be the only one
out, I would have been flabbergasted."
Allegations of Lesbianism Used to Intimidate
The Chronicle of
Higher Education, a prestigious national newspaper, in a 1983 article
written by Cheryl M. Fields, reported that:
Allegations of lesbianism
have been used on college and university campuses to intimidate female
students and faculty members.
Many women on campuses
say they are afraid that even discussing such allegations will stigmatize
them and hurt their careers.
Women report that they
have been asked by members of search committees if they know why other
female job candidates are single.
Some researchers feel
that they may be hurt merely by studying homosexuality.
Several scholarly associations
have documented discrimination against both male and female homosexuals,
both on faculties and on administrative staffs.
to On the Job