Friday, July 24, 2009

NYU and Visiting Professor Break Ties

Have any of you been following the story of Dr. Li-ann Thio, the "human rights activist" who is anti-gay, who was going to teach a human rights class this fall at New York University? Seems that the university had extended an invitation to Dr. Thio to teach a class this fall called "Human Rights in Asia." Problem is, Dr. Thio, of Singapore's National University of Singapore, is an outspoken supporter of Singapore's law that criminalizes sodomy.

Her invitation (and anti-gay record) sparked outrage among many NYU faculty and students, particularly among the law school's GLBT group, NYU Outlaw. Feeling the need to defend her beliefs she penned an 18-point argument to the law school faculty on why she should be allowed to teach on the campus. Below is one of her arguments:

"My objection is not to gay people; it is towards the nature of the homosexual political agenda and the vicious and degrading tactics of some activists. I say "some" because there were gays in Singapore who (a) agree that homosexuality should not be mainstreamed or coercively taught as having moral equivalence with heterosexuality as a social norm) (b) disagree with me but reject the tactics of insult and death threats."

An NYU student wrote a letter to Law School Dean Richard Revesz that expressed what many were feeling. In part, it said:

"I could never imagine the day would come when NYU would allow the appointment of a legal scholar who held the opinion that African-Americans practice acts of "gross indecency", that African-Americans who strive for diversity should be rebuffed because "diversity is not a license for perversity", describing the private intimate acts between African-Americans as trying to "shove a straw up your nose to drink", among other intellectually and morally shallow absurdities.

I would also never imagine the day in which a legal scholar who held the opinion that African-Americans are inferior to Whites or any other racial/ethnic group would be granted a platform here at NYU Law, simply due to interest in not squelching "other" views.

As a gay man as well, however, it seems that it is still an acceptable position within academia to hold these opinions about LGBT individuals and community without repercussion.

It is my sincerest hope that you truly do not believe the intellectually dishonest and bankrupt position that no other scholars among the 6-billion people who populate this planet have the legal heft, and offer the same benefits, that Professor Li-Ann Thio brings to NYU Law, but without her incendiary belief structure regarding valued members of this community (faculty, administrators, student body, parents, friends, alumni, etc).

Suffice it to say I could not imagine your defense of Professor Li-Ann Thio being made regarding a legal scholar who was an avowed supporter of the KKK, or one who publicly and legally sympathized with the violence and vitriol espoused by Al-Qaeda, for example.

I ask that you rethink your official position and take into consideration the harmful effects someone of Professor Li-Ann Thio's stature has, not only on members of the NYU community, but the LGBT community in Singapore which continues to suffer gross oppression at the hands of their government. An oppression which the good Professor strongly desires continue.

Her unnecessary appointment does nothing but tarnish the LGBT-positive legacy that NYU has built over the past several decades."

On the heels of the firestorm that was brewing around Dr. Thio's visiting professorship, she cancelled her invitation, noting that she was disappointed by the "atmosphere of hostility" at the school and the low enrollment numbers for the class.

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