Ryan Thoreson

Ryan Thoreson

A.B. '07 Government and Women's Studies
Researcher, LGBT Rights Program, Human Rights Watch
Clinical Lecturer in Human Rights, Yale Law School
Ryan Thoreson

Even as a student, I was aware that there was something special about the intellectual energy and sense of community in WGS. I was routinely struck by the curiosity and intensity of students inside the classroom, but also appreciated how the program enriched activist thinking on campus and created spaces for dialogue. I became really interested in LGBT activism, and WGS equipped me with both the tools and support I needed to grapple with difficult questions in sexual politics and social justice.

My senior thesis in government and WGS was about LGBT legal reform in South Africa. When I received a Rhodes Scholarship to study anthropology at Oxford, I focused on many of the same themes in the Philippines, and my doctoral work eventually turned the inquiry back onto transnational LGBT groups based in the US. I did a year of fieldwork at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in New York and Cape Town, where I both worked on LGBT advocacy as a research fellow and explored the dynamics of that work in my dissertation. The resulting ethnography, Transnational LGBT Activism: Working for Sexual Rights Worldwide, focused on the challenges of activist scholarship and bringing theory to bear on politics – an interest of mine that was sparked and fostered by my professors and peers in WGS. 

I've continued working on these issues as a researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch and clinical lecturer in human rights at Yale Law School. Although law is different from anthropology in a number of respects, the ability to question received wisdom, consider issues from different perspectives, and envision more radical possibilities have been incredibly helpful in both pursuits. In retrospect, the greatest gifts I took from Harvard were a result of WGS’s emphasis on teaching students how to think and not simply what to think, and I can’t imagine doing the academic and political work I’m doing without that foundation.

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