Martin Duberman

You are a rare and true scholar of reform. The interplay of rigorous analysis and courageous activism defining your clarion career calls to mind Emma Goldman’s observation that “revolution is but thought carried into action.” Indeed, few contemporary scholars have better understood the role of the intellectual in forging social progress. Your body of work—prodigious and befitting a scholar coming onto the scene at a young age and with precocious talents—is testimony to the power of fusing together these identities: Your political plays exploring the devastating personal impact of repression, among them In White America, winner of the Vernon Rice/Drama Desk Award, and Visions of Kerouac. Your candid nonfiction demanding that society reckon with the harsh cost of insisting that gays, lesbians, and other minorities operate neatly within establishment boundaries if they are to access power. And your breakthrough biographies of brilliant outsiders James Russell Lowell, Howard Zinn, Paul Robeson, and Lincoln Kirstein, each of them a complex individual resisting classification, yet all of them possessing, as you do, a restless creativity and strong convictions. In your experience, action always followed insight, because for you there was no alternative. From a major role in the Gay Academic Union, the first group dedicated to establishing gay and lesbian studies as an academic genre, to serving as founding director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, your outspoken advocacy was a beacon of dignity and courage when too many queer academics rightfully feared being open about their sexuality. And while the movement you helped create came to achieve unthinkable levels of social acceptance in the decades following the Stonewall riots, such that it now often moves forward with moderation supplanting radicalism, you have never abandoned the principles driving you to dismantle systemic oppression and discrimination. You paid a price for coming of age when science and society viewed deviations from sexual norms as an illness, experiencing a distinctly suffocating form of oppression policed by sentinels both internal and external. Your forthright memoirs—Midlife Queer: Autobiography of a Decade and, more recently, Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985–2008—reveal your strong belief that self-acceptance, wherever it may lead, is essential to individual fulfillment. By sharing your struggle to embrace your own identity, you provided a courageous and inspiring example others could follow. For occupying the front ranks of society’s inexorable march toward equality and freedom without ever straying from the path, and for doing so with the high intellectual rigor and eloquence needed to light the way, Columbia takes great pride in presenting you with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.