Karla Jay (born February 22, 1947) is a distinguished professor emerita at Pace University, where she taught English and directed the women's and gender studies program between 1974 and 2009. A pioneer in the field of lesbian and gay studies, she is widely published.
Jay was born Karla Jayne Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, to Rhoda and Abraham Berlin, who worked for a dunnage company on the Red Hook (Brooklyn) docks. Raised in a non-observant, largely secular Jewish home, she attended the Berkeley Institute, a private girls' school in Brooklyn. In 1964 she enrolled at Barnard College, where she majored in French and graduated in 1968 after having taken part in the student demonstrations at Columbia University.
While she shared many of the goals of the radical left-wing of the late 1960s, Jay was at odds with the male-supremacist behavior of many of the movement's leaders. In 1969, she became a member of Redstockings. Jay, who had been aware of her lesbianism since high school, came out to her consciousness-raising group in Redstockings. At around the same time she began using the name Karla Jay to reflect her feminist principles.
When activists founded the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, Jay, openly lesbian, became an early member and an active participant. She balanced attendance at GLF meetings with graduate school at New York University, where she majored in comparative literature. She was one of the few women actively involved in the early gay rights movement on both coasts.
Jay was a member of Lavender Menace, a group that formed to protest the exclusion of lesbians from mainstream Women's Liberation. She was involved in the planning and execution of the "Lavender Menace Zap" at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City in May 1970. This zap is considered a turning-point in the history of second-wave feminism.
Also in 1970, the "Wall Street Ogle-In" took place. Led by Jay, women marched on Wall Street with signs addressing street harassment. As a role reversal, the women catcalled the men they passed in hopes of raising awareness of the unpleasant nature of the street harassment women experience daily.
Working with Allen Young Jay edited Out of the Closets (1972), a pioneering anthology that gave voice to the Radicalesbians, Martha Shelley, and writers such as Rita Mae Brown. It was during the 1970s that Jay first heard about the writers Natalie Clifford Barney and Renée Vivien, lesbian members of the American expatriate community in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Their lives and works became the subject of Jay's doctoral dissertation, published by Indiana University Press as The Amazon and the Page (1988).
Jay contributed the essay "Confessions of a Worrywart: Ruminations on a Lesbian Feminist Overview" to the anthology Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium (2003), edited by Robin Morgan.
At the presentation of Pace University's 10th Annual Dyson Distinguished Achievement Awards on April 6, 2006, Jay was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award. She received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 2006.
Her papers are held in the Archives & Manuscripts Division of the New York Public Library.