For, what, the second or third time in as many months, I’ve found myself jumping into a commenting fit of such epic proportions over at Gin and Tacos that I couldn’t resist dragging it out into it’s own full post.
Long story short: Jennifer Keeton, student in Augusta State University’s counseling program is suing the school, because she both wants to become a school councilor and insists that homosexuality is a disease in need of curing (by her, I guess). And because the school has pointed out that, professionally, that’s not acceptable. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going on at all, because the Augusta Chronicle report is both muddled and leans heavily toward Keeton’s perspective, avoiding any discussion of exactly how she managed to annoy her professors into suggesting a ‘remediation plan’ to dissuade her from, er, “voice[ing] her Christian beliefs inside and outside the classroom on homosexuality and other biblical teachings.”
I am honestly a little impressed that Keaton managed to make such a nuisance of herself that the school got up the guts to tell her she can’t just rant at the children she councils about how Jesus hates them. It’s not easy to get a Georgia university official to tell students to keep their insane brand of Christianity a little more to themselves.
Now, for starters, I am dubious of the idea that extra training will help here. And honestly, I’m a little skeptical of the implied approach here–they seem to be hoping to actually change her mind, by ordering* her into diversity training and telling her to go to Augusta’s Pride last month. First, I don’t think they’ll be able to make her change her opinion so easily. Bigotry doesn’t just melt the first time someone tells the bigot they’re not very nice. Secondly, I think she has a right to hold her fucked up beliefs, even while graduating from a public university. She just needs to understand that she can never, ever let them enter her professional life, because doing so would be a serious ethical breech. Or she could find another line of work.
Also, on behalf of all queer people everywhere, I have one thing to say to the professors who suggested Keeton head to the nearest Gay Pride Parade to learn some tolerance: What the hell are you thinking?! Pride parades aren’t there to show insane homophobes that we’re Just Like Everyone Else. That’s what PFLAG pamphlets and the more risqué Lifetime made for TV movies are for. Pride parades are a chance to wear ridiculous outfits, get drunk in the middle of the day, and enjoy some strength in numbers for once. Sort of like St Patrick’s Day was, back when Irish immigrants faced some actual hostility in the US (but also wanted to get drunk and party). I can’t imagine being heckled by drag queens or browsing the lube selection of local sex toy shop is going to help Keeton warm to treating some poor gay high school student with respect or human dignity. Don’t get me wrong, I love drag queens and sex toy stores, but this is just not the way to go.
And more importantly, I doubt any of the actual participants would want her there. It’s a public event and Keeton can come if she wants to, but I’m a little disappointed that her professors thought it was more important to blow her little mind than to let the entire LGBT community of Augusta enjoy their biggest event of the year without one more hater sneering at them. Not everything queer people do together is about helping sheltered, bigoted assholes realize the error of their ways. Actually, most of the fun of something like pride comes from taking a break from worrying what people who hate you think. The ASU faculty shouldn’t ruin that in a misguided attempt to change Keeton’s mind, they should tell her to go home and think very hard about whether she’d rather keep her homophobia private or pick a new line of work.
While I was an undergrad, there was a controversy that started when a student made some hyperbolic but genuinely mean death threats to a gay professor on his student evaluation. The professor complained to the administration, who shrugged. The evaluations are supposed to be anonymous (though they were done online in a traceable way) (Correction: He recognized the student’s handwriting), and the administration didn’t think the threats were serious enough to bother with. When the professor got the same threats at the end of the next semester (he’s in a small department, and is the only instructor for several mandatory classes), he called the campus paper and the LGBT life office. Long story short, the administration threw up a flurry of ass-covering, it turned out the school’s only route for filing bias complaints was to call the cops (which inspires another rant unto itself), and eventually, the school ponied up the offending fratboy, who they ordered to do sensitivity training. Which he also got out of by suing.
The point of that story, and I do have one, is that they school also ordered him to volunteer at the campus LGBT student center, thinking a little exposure Real Life Gays would teach him a valuable lesson of tolerance. (FYI, the LGBT center’s director flat-out refused, and eventually won) Now, remember kids, this guy was in trouble for repeatedly making homophobic death threats to a professor. The LGBT center is the only set-aside safe space for queer students on a large, very hostile campus. So…the administration thought it would be a good idea to order him in there. Because making empty gestures toward teaching a mean straight kid a lesson is more important than the comfort and safety of every queer student on campus. Because they can’t imagine a use for a queer space other than as a teaching tool for the straight majority. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.
I’m sure this doesn’t just happen to queer folks. I’d be pretty surprised if these same administrations don’t deal with other -isms the same way–send the privileged offender to hang out with the people they oppress, and hope they learn their lesson. Do it without any visible concern for the people they’re supposed to be learning from. This is tokenism at it’s worst–treating the organizations de-privileged people have built for themselves as nothing more than an educational diorama, there to demonstrate our mysterious ways to the baffled majority.
*Hypothetically, the ‘remediation plan’ is mandatory, but the news article implies that she’s not going along with it (and is suing instead) and states that the school hasn’t taken any action to expel her anyway. So, she’s not exactly being persecuted out of the building, as she suggests.