‘How to be Gay’ course draws fire at Michigan

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A course called “How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation,” scheduled this fall, has reignited a culture war at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

A family-values lobbyist is leading public opposition to the self-proclaimed “uncompromising political militancy” of the professor who teaches “lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender.”

The lobbyist, Gary Glenn, says professor David M. Halperin and the university “are guilty of perpetrating a fraud against UM students and the people of Michigan [with] propaganda statements about so-called cultural studies and academic freedom” as they promote “queer studies” at taxpayer expense.

Mr. Glenn, president of the Michigan affiliate of the conservative American Family Association, first criticized the “How to be Gay” courses three years ago. In 2000, the Michigan state legislature fell just four votes short of passing a measure to cut off all government funds for the courses.

Last week, he renewed his crusade against Mr. Halperin’s classes, urging Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, the legislature and the university’s Board of Regents to “stop letting homosexual activists use our tax dollars to subsidize this militant political agenda.”

The professor says critics misunderstand the “How to be Gay” class.

“It does not teach students to be homosexual,” Mr. Halperin says in an interview. “Rather, it examines critically the odd notion that there are right and wrong ways to be gay, that homosexuality is not just a sexual practice or desire but a set of specific tastes in music, movies, and other cultural forms — a notion which is shared by straight and gay people alike.

“The reason these courses exist is not that homosexual teachers have hijacked the university for their own purposes; they exist because they convey the results of research which sheds genuinely new light on history, culture, society and thought.”

However, in a course description on the university’s Web site, Mr. Halperin says: “Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn how to become one. Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often we learn how to be gay from others.”

The course description says students “will examine a number of cultural artifacts and activities” including “camp, diva-worship, drag, muscle culture, taste, style and political activism.” Mr. Halperin’s class explores “the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay male identity.”

The emphasis on “initiation” into homosexuality is what appears to be most offensive to conservatives like Mr. Glenn.

“We don’t know what [Mr. Halperin] does in the classroom,” the state AFA president says in an interview. “It is outrageous that Michigan taxpayers are forced to pay for a class whose stated purpose is to ‘experiment’ with the ‘initiation’ of young men into a self-destructive homosexual lifestyle.”

Mr. Glenn notes that Mr. Halperin has boasted in print about his success in advancing a homosexual agenda.

In a 1996 article in an academic journal, Mr. Halperin wrote: “Let there be no mistake about it: lesbian and gay studies, as it is currently practiced in the U.S., expresses an uncompromising political militancy. … The emergence of lesbian and gay studies has brought about a far-reaching intellectual transformation in the disciplines of the humanities, arts and social sciences as well as in the social life of American universities and in the professional culture of American academe.”

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