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Harvard Students Petition for Posthumous Degrees for Expelled Gays


Activists congregate as Lady Gaga, with special guest Oprah, launches the Born This Way Foundation at the Ivy today

On a day in which two major storms--Oprah and Lady Gaga--will be blowing through Cambridge, Mass., to launch the pop singer's Born This Way Foundation, Harvard students are gathering to right some wrongs the university perpetrated against its gay contingent during the 1920s.

Back then, under president Abbott Lawrence, the university formed a secret court to root out homosexuals, leading to the expulsion of nine students thought to be gay.

In 2002, when evidence of the secret court was made public, after files of the efforts were unearthed by the Harvard Crimson in a university archive, then-president Lawrence Summers responded, "These reports of events long ago are extremely disturbing. They are part of a past that we have rightly left behind. I want to express our deep regret for the way this situation was handled, as well as the anguish the students and their families must have experienced eight decades ago."

But for many students and activists, the public recantation of Harvard's historical homophobic practices has not yet reached an adequate level, and a campaign to award honorary postumous degrees--a practice Harvard has never engaged in--has been underway since then.

"It's not reparations, it's more of a gesture to the present LGBT community that this university has cemented its values on the right side of history and it's willing to address--not just put in the past--the aberrations of the 1920s," Jonas Wang, a 21-year-old transgender student, told the AP. "You can say that the people of the court were the victims of their own culture, but this is something we are addressing in the present."

Currently, a petition, created by visiting faculty member Kaia Stern, to grant the expelled students degrees on has 4,634 of the 5,000 signatures it seeks to gain.

As activsts gather outside Harvard's Sanders Theatre today, where the Born This Way Foundation is staging their launch event, starting 4 p.m. EST, it is yet to be determined whether Lady Gaga or Oprah or Cynthia Germanotta, Gaga's mother and the orgnization's cofounder, will address the ralliers and their petition. But, given that BTWF, as their Facebook page explains, will address "issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development," we're interested to see if Gaga will speak out and use the full force of her celebrity to pressure the university into caving.

Photos: Getty Images

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