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.”
Mr. Halperin wrote that “lesbian and gay studies scholars” were leaders in lobbying universities and governments “to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination policies, to recognize same-sex couples, to oppose the U.S. military’s anti-gay policy, to suspend professional activities in states that criminalize gay sex or limit access to abortion, and to intervene on behalf of human rights for lesbians, bisexuals and gay men at the local and national levels.”
Robert M. Owen, the university’s associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, defends Mr. Halperin’s course.
“This course is not about encouraging people to become gay, but about how individuals in our society create meaning and beliefs about gay culture from literature and the arts,” Mr. Owen said in a prepared statement. Such a course helps students who plan to enter careers in law, social work or other fields where they will “encounter a large and very diverse clientele.”
Mr. Owen said public criticism of Mr. Halperin’s class stems largely from “the title of the course,” and said, “The interpretation of that title is very troubling for some people.”
The course is part of the university’s “genuine search for intellectually interesting and sometimes provocative subject matters,” the associate dean said. “The historic freedom granted to pursue this search is one of the hallmarks of higher education.”
University officials have been “inundated” with AFA-distributed postcards objecting to the course, says university spokeswoman Julie Peterson. But she does not expect the postcards to affect the university’s support for Mr. Halperin.
“He is a very popular professor,” Ms. Peterson says, “and there is always a long waiting list for his courses. The list gets longer when stories like this happen.”
Mr. Glenn argues that such a statement by a university official “mocks and even taunts Michigan taxpayers, reveling that the more taxpayers dare protest the use of their tax dollars to teach kids ‘How to be Gay,’ the more students will enroll in the class.
“Such arrogant dismissiveness toward taxpayers’ legitimate concerns is all the more reason Michigan lawmakers should exact a greater degree of public accountability from UM officials.”