Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fears of a red state lesbian

As a Jewish feminist lesbian in my 10th year of teaching in my third red state, it is hard for conservative (fundamentalist Christian) Republicans to surprise me. They are consistently looking for ways to go after the "liberal academics " at public institutions...

The most recent Crusades are being mounted by Georgia Representatives Byrd and Hill, who are out to stop queer academics at the state's colleges and universities from using taxpayers dollars to teach the state's young adults about gay and sexuality stuff. The latest tack--to use the economic crisis to fire these professors--is quite inspired. "'Now that the state budget is under considerable reform, I believe the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services in these so-called special interest areas,' Byrd said Feb. 6"(SoVo, 2/20/09).

I have been at several schools where the conservatives were after us. At one school, the legislature requested a list of all courses with women, sex, sexuality, homosexuality, gay, and lesbian in the title. Academics responded by changing course titles to put those "taboo words" after the colon... e.g., History in America: The Gay and Lesbian Experience. At another school, the person teaching a class on human sexuality was called out for showing "pornographic videos" in class. The poor university administrators had to sit in a room and watch all the videos back to back, no pun intended, to see whether they were appropriate and of educational value--for adults, I might add. I'll bet that was an interesting exercise! (Popcorn, anyone?)

One issue in the Georgia story, which is new for me, is that they are attacking the schools for having faculty who have areas of specialization to which they object.
Byrd condemned two Georgia State University professors for being experts in oral sex and male prostitution. ...Dr. Kirk Elifson, the university’s expert in male prostitution, retired from teaching in 2005 but continues to research drug abuse, HIV prevention and male prostitution. Dr. Mindy Stombler, listed as an oral sex expert, is a sociologist who studies gender and sexual issues and has authored a widely used sociology textbook. (SoVo)
The Georgia legislators are also twisting reality to play on the fears of citizens. To wit:

In an newsletter Byrd posted on her website, she wrote, “There is a professor
in charge of Queer Theory actively recruiting young teenage gays to accompany
him on international trips.” She then linked to Dr. Bob Hill’s website.

Hill is a founding member of UGA’s Safe Space program, and is an internationally known scholar on adult education. ...Dr. Andy Horn, dean of UGA’s College of Education, said while Hill travels internationally, it is as a result of his scholarship, not study abroad programs. Hill does not take young male students to different countries to the best of Horn’s knowledge. (S0V0)

As someone who has listed my areas of specialization (as my university requested) so they could be posted online for reporters and students alike, it is a little scary to think that someone would come after me for the LGBTQ focus of my research. And as one of the ONLY people here who lists gay or lesbian topics, it is even a little more anxiety-producing. I do believe that I would be supported by my university's leaders and my dean, but I sent a copy of the story to them just in case.

Even as the NIH seems like it will be more open to LGBTQ-related research under this administration, we have to be concerned about the legislators in our own states. And the threat to our public universities is real--these legislators can withhold our funding in a time when we are facing real financial exigencies. As conservative columnist Martha Zoller notes, they see queer courses, women's studies courses, and other sexuality-related courses as "fringes," designed to titillate and not educate. Never having taken one of these courses or read a stitch of recent theory or literature, these legislators and their supporters have no idea about the level of challenge or critical thinking, not to mention reading and writing, demanded by these courses.

I would argue that this latest power move in Georgia is part of keeping the culture war alive in the time of national Democratic dominance in politics...

Rep. Hill is not introducing legislation to make this happen. He and Rep.
Byrd are encouraging a grassroots effort for students and parents who pay the
bills at state universities to pressure the administration to look to the
fringes of what they teach to find the cuts needed to make the budget
I am keeping my ears open for similar rumblings in my red state as we confront our shrinking state revenues, even as I leave my "areas of expertise" listing on my university's website. Hopefully, you won't see my name in the next big story.


Anonymous said...

Nothing quite like using economics to say that certain types of questions cannot be answered. What's next? Censoring publications that do not put their viewpoints forward?

Anonymous said...

Hi, love your blog. Just wanted to say "Kudos...", because as a straight Jewish female from a red state (no longer in a red state...but born and bred), I know that there are enough hurdles to cross. People have so many "fun" perceptions about the whole Jewish thing, so throw in sexual preference? You must be either very strong, or deaf/blind to the world. Either way, I am impressed!

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