Gay Class Causes Culture Clash

Students have many courses to choose from when entering college this year: English 101, art history, biology. But the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (search) has sparked outrage thanks to one class it is offering,  "How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation."

Gary Glenn (search), president of the Michigan affiliate of the American Family Association (search) is re-launching a battle he started three years ago when the course was first offered to close the book on the class once and for all.

He is leading a protest against the university, which he claims is using taxpayer money to “encourage and legitimize homosexual behavior in young men.”

The class' professor, David M. Halperin (search), says critics of the course are jumping the gun and don’t understand what it’s really about.

"It does not teach students to be homosexual,” Halperin told The Washington Times. "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 course description on the university’s Web site outlines the class: “Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn't mean that you don't have to learn how to become one."

Students in the class will "examine the general topic of the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay male identity” and will “examine a number of cultural artifacts and activities that seem to play a prominent role in learning how to be gay including Broadway musicals, diva-worship, drag, muscle culture, taste and political activism.”

Glenn said the course is “an outrageous abuse of tax dollars."

"The hidden agenda is to promote the militant political agenda of homosexual activists, and I’m using the words of the professor himself,” Glenn said.

Statements Halperin has made in the past alarm Glenn, such as one he sighted from the Australian Humanities Review (search) in which Halperin wrote a response to an article titled “'On Global Queering,” in 1997. “Let there be no mistake about it: lesbian and gay studies, as it is currently practised in the U.S., expresses an uncompromising political militancy,” Halperin wrote. “Indeed, nothing short of political militancy suffices to establish such courses of study in the first place.”

But the university contends on its Web site that, “the 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.”

The university adds that “the term ‘gay initiation’ in the course title refers to a process that all communities face of reproducing themselves across generations – it is really an anthropological concept, according to Professor Halperin.’”

Describing the course as culturally important is “propaganda” Glenn said.

"The University of Michigan and the professor are perpetrating a fraud on Michigan tax payers,” he said. “For all of the PC rhetoric coming out of the university about cultural studies and academic freedom, the purpose of this class is to promote homosexuality.”

This is not a new fight for Glenn, who started speaking out against the course when it was first offered in 2000.

“We gathered 15,000 signatures in Michigan protesting the course,” he said. “The State House of Representatives fell just four votes short of cutting the University of Michigan budget by 10 percent over this class.”

After the initial uproar, Glenn said a staffer at the university’s office told him that he doubted the school would offer the course again because of the backlash, but it was held once after that, and now is back again for the fall 2003 semester.

The lobbyist re-ignited his fight last week, sending out paper petitions to Michigan residents and posting a petition online, all of which will be sent to Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (search), the legislature and the university's Board of Regents requesting that funding for the class be cut off.

Robert M. Owen, the university's associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, supports Halperin.

"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,” he wrote in a statement on the university's Web site.

“How to be Gay” is an example of the university’s "genuine search for intellectually interesting and sometimes provocative subject matters," Owen added in the statement.

But Glenn said he’s confident he’ll collect thousands of signatures protesting the class once again. “The Michigan taxpayers are outraged that their money is being spent to pay for a class that’s stated purpose is to experiment with initiation into a lifestyle of homosexual behavior,” he said.

Megan Matteson, a sophomore and co-director of the Alliance of Lesbian-Bi-Gay and Transgendered Students at MSU, told The Gay Financial Network (search) that the protest makes no sense to her, and that it’s obvious that those protesting against the course haven’t done their research.

"The whole idea of being able to recruit (people to homosexuality) doesn't exist,” she told GFN. “You can't recruit someone to be gay anymore than you can to be a foreigner."