23 Jul 2009
Thio Li-ann cancels visit to NYU Law School amidst controversy
In an unexpected move, Dr Thio Li-ann who has vehemently defended her right to hold anti-gay views while being a human rights instructor, has reportedly cancelled her visit to New York University (NYU) Law School to teach.
In a statement published by the New York Times on Jul 22, Dean Richard L. Revesz of the NYU School of Law said: "I am writing to let you know that Professor Li-ann Thio informed me today that she is canceling her Fall visit to NYU Law School as a Global Visiting Professor as a result of the controversy surrounding her views regarding homosexuality and gay rights. She explained that she was disappointed by what she called the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes. The Law School will therefore cancel the course on Human Rights in Asia and the seminar on Constitutionalism in Asia, which she had been scheduled to teach."
Revesz had earlier defended her appointment while stating that "the Law School categorically rejects the point of view expressed in Professor Thio's speech.”
Dr Thio Li-ann is a law lecturer at the National University of Singapore's law school.
Earlier this month, NYU OUTLaw, a gay and lesbian student group, sent an email to students highlighting Dr Thio’s opposition to have Singapore’s gay sex laws repealed and quotes from her infamous speech given as a Nominated Member of Parliament describing anal sex as "shoving a straw up your nose to drink."
A petition protesting her appointment garnered over 800 signatures, according to abovethelaw.com, a US legal blog, which covered the mini-controversy closely. The blog had earlier quoted an NYU law student who said "NYU Law voted with its feet" with "a grand total of five people applied for Dr Thio's class." Both the professor’s courses are said to be severely undersubscribed.
Last week, the professor sent the dean and some faculty members at NYU an 18-point memo accusing her detractors of bullying, attacking her personally and jeopardising her job.
"I am tired of the insinuations that I am in favour of oppressing any community in Singapore or elsewhere.
"What I object to is the colouring of any principled moral opposition to homosexuality as 'bigoted' and ignorance or 'hatred'.
"I am deeply offended at Mr Graves-Pryor's characterisation of me / my views as immoral. I disagree with his views but I do not threaten his job."
She was referring to a letter sent by Malik Graves-Pryor, a NYU staff member and NYU student, asking for her appointment to be terminated.
He wrote in his letter that he "as an African-American man… could never imagine the day would come when NYU would allow the appointment of a legal scholar who held the opinion that African-Americans practice acts of ‘gross indecency’, that African-Americans who strive for diversity should be rebuffed because ‘diversity is not a license for perversity’, describing the private intimate acts between African-Americans as trying to ‘shove a straw up your nose to drink’, among other intellectually and morally shallow absurdities."
"I would also never imagine the day in which a legal scholar who held the opinion that African-Americans are inferior to Whites or any other racial/ethnic group would be granted a platform here at NYU Law, simply due to interest in not squelching ‘other views," he wrote.
"As a Gay man as well, however, it seems that it is still an acceptable position within academia to hold these opinions about LGBT individuals and community without repercussion."
In its latest statement, the dean of the NYU law school clarified that neither himself nor his colleagues were aware of Dr Thio's parliamentary speech (in which she argued against the decriminalisation of consensual sexual acts between men) at the time of her appointment in January 2008. However should he or the school have been aware of her speech, the fact "should not have played any role in the evaluation of her merits to be a visiting professor," the statement said.
From her 18-point memo, Thio Li-ann on:
- people “who do not want to have conversations with (her) anymore”
4. I have colleagues and students who identify themselves as homosexual. Some are hostile to the views I have expressed as a politician, some are hurt (and I have had really difficult conversations with such students whom I greatly liked as individuals, who expressed their disappointment at me for my views but I had to point out that everyone is entitled to their convictions which are complicated things. Some understand and know I respect them as people and some do not want to have conversations with me anymore. That is their prerogative)
- ex-gays and their right to “sexual re-orientation”
6. I have friends who identify as ex-gay. They point out to me that the homosexual community is the most vicious when they try to speak out. What about this oppressed minority group? One of them said to me: If they have a right to sexual orientation, do I not have the right to sexual re-orientation? All they get is vilification and abuse and charges that homosexuals are 'born that way' and it is a fallacy to believe they can seek to mute unwanted same-sex attractions if that is their choice.
- “homosex” activists and homosexuals in luxury condos
8. Homosexuals in Singapore are by and large affluent and literate; building developers target high quality residences for their consumption. They have space to lead quiet lives which is what most of us want. They are basically left alone in practice. However, when you enter the public arena and demand to change social norms, which others resist, do you expect a walkover? When reasoned arguments are presented against the homosexualism agenda, which any citizen in a democracy is entitled to do, what happens? Homosex activists hurl abuse, death threats. They have demonstrated nothing but abuse towards their detractors. This is not the way to win respect. This is not conducive to sustainable democracy in the long-term. I argue it is a horizontal chilling of speech by the most malicious of methods. Homosex activists may see it as a "rights" issues (and I have academic friends and feminists who disagree "sharply" with my viewpoints but refuse to vilify me because they know who I am and respect me as a scholar), others see it as a matter of a "goods" issue, about the nature of public morality and social norms. And these debates are played out on a global basis.
- being “bullied”
17 c. My objection is not to gay people; it is towards the nature of the homosexual political agenda and the vicious and degrading tactics of some activists. I say "some" because there were gays in Singapore who (a) agree that homosexuality should not be mainstreamed or coercively taught as having moral equivalence with heterosexuality as a social norm) (b) disagree with me but reject the tactics of insult and death threats.
17 f. Another reason is frankly, a tiredness with this sort of bullying towards anyone who opposes the gay agenda. (And I know gays who oppose the gay agenda). One of my colleagues, an untenured professor, wrote an Op Ed supporting the retention of the sodomy law and the policy of non active enforcement. An argument raised was that law has an educative function in signalling social mores. Removing the law would signal a different set of values that colleague was opposed to. What happened? That colleague received a torrent of abuse. People wrote to our dean demanding that colleague (a) be removed from her job (b) be subjected to homosex sensitivity training (c) be required to teach pro-gay cases from abroad (which in fact were referenced in lectures while not celebrated). We do not tolerate such self-righteous intolerance in Singapore. At stake is genuine academic freedom and civil discourse. Who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor in this context? Or does an unrelenting hubris occlude the ability to see the truth of things in different contexts?
To read Thio Li-ann's memo and Malik Graves-Pryor's letter in full, click onto the