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Class sparks controversy with transgender-related curriculum

When David Caton, the executive director of the Florida Family Association (FFA), opened an e-mail containing a flier that advertised’ a class called Queer Theory , he was shocked

The e-mail was originally sent by USF assistant professor of sociology Sara Crawley, but was forwarded to Canton by a student and it included a photo of a drag performer with the caption: ‘Drag performance of local gender illusionist, 6pak, a physiologically unaltered female-bodied’trans guy.’

Starting Jan. 4, the FFA sent e-mails to the University’calling for an end to ‘inappropriate curriculum’ and asking administrators to ‘reconsider your decision to approve such an irresponsible and wasteful course.’

And the e-mails haven’t stopped.

‘I think it’s inappropriate, because it’s a state-funded college which receives significant amount of government and state tax dollars,’ said Caton of FFA, whose organization is aimed at improving the country’s moral environment, according to its Web site. ‘As an alumni of USF, I’m appalled by the situation.’

But the University isn’t backing down from its decision to offer the course, said USF Vice Provost for Faculty and Program Development Dwayne Smith.

USF administrators have received nearly 2,500 e-mails from the FFA, Smith said.

‘We support Ms. Crawley’s right to teach it,’ Smith said. ‘A very core value of the University is intellectual inquiry and often time’intellectual inquiry involves courses, or topics, or subjects that plenty of people are really unhappy with or disagree with. It’s a provocative title and I think potentially it’s a lightening rod of controversy, but if you read, it has a meaning that’s a little bit different then the title might imply. It’s more about a social theory on social identity.’

The FFA Web site -‘ – lists seven administrators, including Smith, as individuals to contact at USF to with complaints.

The association also sent e-mails to its supporters warning that their tax dollars were being used to offer the course ‘complete with drag shows,’ according to’ an FFA e-mail.

Crawley said she hasn’t responded to the e-mails from the association and doesn’t plan to. She said the FFA’s campaign against her class is based on incorrect’assumptions.

‘I think most of the’content is based on misinformation,’ Crawley said. ‘The Web site that the (FFA) set up suggests that my flier tells people we’re going to have drag shows in class. We do not. That’s a misreading of the flier. All that was, was a caption to the’picture.’

The Queer Theory class, which explores sexual identities in society, has been taught at USF for the past four years.

‘The whole idea of being in college is to discuss controversial ideas and interesting concepts and to create a free and safe space to do that,’Crawley said.

The USF Web site explains the class’ course description saying the class ‘serves to deconstruct the notion that sexual orientation is innate as well as to questions the construction of the categories male and female.’

While Crawley claims the assumptions are wrong and the FFA argues its ‘astounding’ to use tax dollars to fund the class, campus gay activists are simply calling it hate.

Lara McDermott, president of the People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality (PRIDE) Alliance, said the FFA’s campaign is a mask for a deeper agenda.

‘I feel that they are trying to use the budget crisis to cover up the fact that they just hate gay people,’ she said. ‘As far as I’m concerned they can rain on the gay parade all they want, because after the rain there’s always a rainbow.’

Crawley reassured her’31 students on the first day of this semester that the University was standing behind its decision to offer the course.

USF student Emma Makdessi said a dean was even standing outside the classroom to make sure protests didn’t occur.

‘It’s education. It’s a learning environment,’ Makdessi, a senior majoring in international studies. ‘You can’t teach subjects that feel OK and stop teaching others that don’t feel OK with you. That defeats the whole point of education.’