Among the hundreds of courses available to students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor this fall, “How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” stands at the forefront of courses inviting attention as well as controversy. As in 2000 and 2001, Professor David M. Halperin has been granted the opportunity to teach his class on homosexuality.
Contrary to what opponents are saying, this course is not aimed at encouraging homosexuality. It is simply an examination of a progressing lifestyle that is unfamiliar to many people. The main purpose of the course is to move beyond the stereotypes that people have of gay culture so that society can recognize its value. In this class, Halperin hopes to allow students to “examine the general topic of the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay identity.”
According to the course syllabus, students will study cultural artifacts and activities that play a role in gay culture, such as movies, musicals and fashion styles. In addition, the course aims to “not promote one version of gay identity, but to investigate the stakes in gay identification and seeking ultimately to create the basis for wider acceptance of ways in which people determine how to be gay.”
Unable to comprehend the justification of such a course, Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association in Michigan, opposes it. He believes the class is an “outrageous and reckless abuse of tax dollars.” Glenn, also the leader of an online petition aimed at canceling the class, protests with arguments that completely dismiss homosexuality.
Glenn and his followers may have reasonable arguments relating to why homosexuality is morally wrong. However, the other side of the spectrum can argue just as well for it.
Glenn and his supporters fail to realize the primary issue at hand here, which is that Americans have the liberty to do as they please.
One virtue of an American lifestyle is the broad range of choices Americans have available to them. “How to be Gay” is not a required course at the University of Michigan. When a student chooses to enroll in a course, he is experiencing an important part of attending college: the ability to make his own decisions. Not all courses appeal to everyone.
The liberty to decide in which classes to enroll is at the student’s discretion. If one rejects the offering of this or any other course, he is taking away the choices of others just because they live a different lifestyle.
Opponents of the course, such as Glenn, are trying to suppress a movement similar to that of the civil rights and women’s movement because of their intolerance toward a growing population that is unfamiliar or frightening to them.
This is America. The cultural study of a particular group should not be neglected because the group’s lifestyle is offensive to some. After all, many aspects of today’s culture have been influenced by gay people. Rock Hudson, one of the most admired actors of all time, helped set the standard for excellence in Hollywood. Gay artists such as Elton John and Oscar Wilde have captivated audiences with their talents.
The contributions made to society by these people and other people similar to them more than qualify for recognition at a public university.
Protesters can argue all day about whether homosexuality is morally right or wrong. Someone who advocates the class does not necessarily practice or even tolerate homosexuality. It means he respects the choices and freedoms of others.
The class is not recruiting homosexuals. it is providing a gateway to learn about a prevalent culture. Discontinuing the course would be a defeat of American principles.
Chris Lively, The Battalion Texas A&M University.