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Homophobic Professor invited to teach Human Rights in NYU
July 15, 2009 6:50 PM   Subscribe

NYU recently invited a Law Professor from Singapore, Thio Li-Ann to teach "Human Rights in Asia". Thio, also a former Member of Parliament, is infamous for having strong views against homosexuality. As expected, she is not warmly welcomed by NYU students.

Background:

Thio has spoken in Parliament against repealing the law against homosexual sex in Singapore.

Her post infamous quote from parliament:

"Anal-penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and a misuse of organs, like shoving a straw up your nose to drink."

[link to full transcript of speech]
posted by merv (75 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like that phrase, "a misuse of organs."
I'm going to bandy it about every chance I get now.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:51 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Huh. An expert on human rights who denies full human rights to homosexuals. Sounds familiar.
posted by darkstar at 6:52 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is shoving a straw up your nose to drink illegal in Singapore?
posted by defenestration at 6:54 PM on July 15, 2009 [23 favorites]


The Singaporese word for "shoving a straw up one's nose" is the grammatical root of the word "testimony."
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:56 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Her NYU Faculty Profile.

Interestingly, another NYU law professor was recently cited by the Indian Supreme Court in its decision to decriminalize sodomy.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:08 PM on July 15, 2009


A government body regulating sexuality. That's a misuse of organs.
posted by rokusan at 7:14 PM on July 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


Is shoving a straw up your nose to drink illegal in Singapore?

Yes and is punishable by death.
posted by Avenger at 7:14 PM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


The LGBT in Singapore article at Wikipedia has a lot of interesting details, including a multilingual section on local gay terminology.

Also - oral and anal sex, prohibited under Section 377 of the Penal Code, were only decriminalized for heterosexuals in October 2007. Only Malaysia and India continue to explicitly criminalize sex between men.
posted by mdonley at 7:14 PM on July 15, 2009


Only Malaysia and India continue to explicitly criminalize sex between men.

Whoops - that should read: Only Malaysia and India continue to explicitly criminalize sex between men in Asia.
posted by mdonley at 7:15 PM on July 15, 2009


You've got it backwards. The punishment for homosexuality in Singapore is they shove a straw up your nose.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:18 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having lived in Singapore, I find it richly amusing that *anyone* would invite a member of the Singaporean parliament (assuming she's with the PAP, anyway) to lecture on human rights.
posted by the dief at 7:20 PM on July 15, 2009


Human rights are universal, like prohibitions against genocide. Demands for ‘homosexual rights’ are the political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements. Homosexual activists often try to infiltrate and hijack human rights initiatives to serve their political agenda, discrediting an otherwise noble cause to protect the weak and poor. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.

I can't read those first two sentences in any way that doesn't come off as "homosexuality is inhuman".

Going further down, it seems like Singapore is going through the same process America did with regard to gay rights over the last thirty years:

Special protection is reserved for the poor and disadvantaged; the average homosexual person in Singapore is both well educated, with higher income – that’s why upscale condo developers target them! Homosexuals do not deserve special rights, just the rights we all have.

We've heard this argument before, and we've recently seen evidence that LGBT folk do not, in fact, have higher incomes than their straight counterparts. I believe there was a post to the blue about this in the last few weeks; I'll go hunting for it later when I've time.

Thanks for the post, merv. It's saddening to me to see someone like this rewarded with a teaching post somewhere as prestigious as NYU, and I hope to hell their students rise up and force the university to remove this bigoted woman from their faculty.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:22 PM on July 15, 2009


Who knew being gay was just like having a drinking problem?


Also, more seriously, fuck Thio Li-Ann and her ilk. They're the ones misusing an organ -- their goddamn brains.
posted by defenestration at 7:23 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously people, when I lived there they banned men with long hair from entering the country. I mean jesus christ what the fuck.
posted by the dief at 7:26 PM on July 15, 2009


So, inserting a nasal feeding tube for a sick infant is a misuse of organs and should be a punishable offense? What about suppositories? They're certainly going the wrong way.
posted by longsleeves at 7:26 PM on July 15, 2009


NYU Law students are not scrambling to enroll in her class, apparently.

Brian Leiter notes that her response to criticism of her ideas has been to complain about bullying.
posted by jayder at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2009


I think the NYU students are going about this the wrong way. They should flock to her class. Fill the room to capacity. And sit in on every lecture with straws rammed up their noses.
posted by felix betachat at 7:38 PM on July 15, 2009 [7 favorites]



MetaFilter: sitting in on every lecture with straws rammed up their noses.

posted by spitefulcrow at 7:41 PM on July 15, 2009


It's saddening to me to see someone like this rewarded with a teaching post somewhere as prestigious as NYU, and I hope to hell their students rise up and force the university to remove this bigoted woman from their faculty.

Well, in the afterschool special version of this story, NYU students teach her a few things about human rights that she then takes back to Singapore. *group hug*

In reality: yeah, probably not so much.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:41 PM on July 15, 2009


Well, in the afterschool special version of this story, NYU students teach her a few things about human rights that she then takes back to Singapore. *group hug*

In reality: yeah, probably not so much.


Yeah, that'd be why I said "hope". Unfortunately. *sigh*

It's like the John Yoo situation here at Berkeley. He's not going anywhere anytime soon, no matter how much noise we make.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:47 PM on July 15, 2009


Looks like Thio is trying to please her mom, a legislator whose cause was trying to stop Singapore from giving rise to a "generation of lesbians," and who inspired her to become an M.P.

Thio, believing she was rescuing feminism in Singapore from a lesbian conspiracy, ended up locked out of the building.

It all started with unrest over screening over a movie called "Spider Lillies" about Taiwanese women in love.
posted by johngoren at 7:50 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


P.S. The lusty trailer gives the lie to the claims in that last link that hot same-sex action "was never on the agenda" in Spider Lilies.
posted by johngoren at 8:00 PM on July 15, 2009


Yeah, that'd be why I said "hope".

Hope the students rise up and have her booted from campus? No, that's the made-for-tv movie. In the afterschool special, students actually show up to class to discuss human rights, and it's through dialogue that everyone learns, including the teacher.

I dunno. The whole thing makes me sad.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:08 PM on July 15, 2009


a lesbian conspiracy

I always love the witch-burning logic behind the queer conspiracy theory: the group of people who can't even get the legal rights to not be beaten to death, or fired for who they sleep with, or get health care coverage, these are going to be the people who magically enact secret power to take over the world and make everyone gay?
posted by yeloson at 8:12 PM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


In the afterschool special, students actually show up to class to discuss human rights, and it's through dialogue that everyone learns, including the teacher.

In my experience, very few people who have such strong beliefs will ever have them changed by anything anyone else says to them. The religious/moral meme just gets itself in there too deeply for anything to remove it.
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:17 PM on July 15, 2009


If shoving a straw up your nose is wrong, baby, I don't wanna be right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:28 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hope the students rise up and have her booted from campus? No, that's the made-for-tv movie.

Well, you never know. After all, these are the students who barricaded themselves in a cafeteria over the university budget (for some reason, I thought it was the library, but I can't find a link to that). They may go back again to seize all of the straws.
posted by kensch at 8:28 PM on July 15, 2009


Homosexuals do not deserve special rights, just the rights we all have.


Well, I agree: rights like being able to marry the consenting adult of your preference.
posted by darkstar at 8:29 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


kensch: to be fair, the barricade-in-cafeteria gang were mostly undergrads. The NYU Law kids are not quite so dense.
posted by louie at 8:34 PM on July 15, 2009


From abovethelaw, referencing Professor Thio's own words (my emphasis):
If the NYU law community is unable to welcome me because of my convictions, they should say so. I am sure many faculty members are doing some soul-searching, perhaps regretting their original invitation. I am not naive. But just reflect on how this makes me feel. I do not feel welcomed as a person; I feel unfairly treated and greatly disrespected.
How do you say chutzpah in Mandarin?
posted by boo_radley at 8:36 PM on July 15, 2009


Homosexuals do not deserve special rights, just the rights we all have.


Well, I agree: rights like being able to marry the consenting adult of your preference.


If only that were what she meant when she said it.
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2009


I think her theory about straws up noses being a misuse of an organ would comes as a surprise to any patient who has relied on the lifesaving qualities of a nasogastric feeding tube.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:42 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Brian Leiter notes that her response to criticism of her ideas has been to complain about bullying.

Sounds all too fucking familiar. Like when bigoted Mormons complained about being called bigots — that's the new standard for what "bullying" means, now.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2009


NYU has attracted many of the best and brightest students because of its claimed commitment to diversity, public interest and the vigorous exchange of ideas. Dr. Thio does not embody those ideals.

Apparently, some segments of the student body don't look too kindly on a vigorous exchange of ideas either.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:04 PM on July 15, 2009


Apparently, some segments of the student body don't look too kindly on a vigorous exchange of ideas either.

You really just can't see any problems whatsoever with someone this clearly bigoted teaching human rights?
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:49 PM on July 15, 2009


some segments of the student body don't look too kindly on a vigorous exchange of ideas

Personally, I'm tired of the "vigorous exchange of ideas" when one side's idea is "these people are inferior, morally and spiritually, and should be considered criminals and persecuted by the law for their sexual identity," and the other side's idea is "No, they're not, and they shouldn't."

We're not talking about a professor who merely disapproves of homosexuality, but a professor supposed to be teaching about human rights who believes that homosexuals - which some of her students probably are - don't deserve all of those rights.

If I was a student at NYU, I wouldn't be taking her class either. I would express my disgust and my skepticism about whether she could comprehensively teach human rights in Asia, given that she's in favor of continued criminalization of homosexuality.

Shutting up and letting her teach without protest wouldn't be an exchange at all. My refusal to sit in a classroom to be taught by someone who believes I'm a sick pervert who should be thrown in jail, on the other hand, would say a lot.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:18 PM on July 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Her argument, basically, is that she is the victim here, and that oppressive and malicious homosexuals are slandering her and destroying her reputation. The fundamental disconnect is that Dr. Thio seems to think this is a purely political debate, and therefore calling her views “bigoted” or comparing them to racism is out of bounds. She hangs her hat on freedom of speech and diversity of political opinion, arguing that detractors are “bullying” and trying to silence her.

This seems to be THE self-righteous and self-contradictory card the right has been playing for as long as I can remember. "You liberals are stepping all over MY RIGHT to behave in an intolerant way. And you say you care about rights? Ha! Look how remorselessly you take away my rights! That, if anything, proves your attack is purely political, motivated by special interests, and that I'm on the side of true honesty and decency!"
posted by treepour at 11:27 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why would you want to take a human rights law class from a Singapore-legal-system trained professor? Singapore is functionally a one party dictatorship run by authoritarian apologists.
posted by wuwei at 11:48 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I always love the witch-burning logic behind the queer conspiracy theory: the group of people who can't even get the legal rights to not be beaten to death, or fired for who they sleep with, or get health care coverage, these are going to be the people who magically enact secret power to take over the world and make everyone gay?

Well the interesting thing is that by forcing gays into the closet, you create these underground networks and whatnot. There really did used to be "gay rings", in fact there was a huge scandal during Ronald Reagan's tenure as governor of California when a "Gay Ring" was discovered "operating" in his government at least that's what I read in this slate comic book biography which doesn't seem to be online anymore.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 PM on July 15, 2009


Note: I'm a Singaporean, living in Singapore.

Just a few thoughts, and a bit of background.

Here's a link to the last FPP concerning Singapore. In a nutshell, a small gang of evangelical Christians - led, incidentally, by Thio Li-Ann's mother, Thio Su Mien - took over a leading womens' advocacy group, AWARE. This eventually led to a vote of no confidence in the usurpers, and the closest thing to a public discussion of politics. Unfortunately, I would not characterise the discussion as being particularly sophisticated or interesting, as it consisted mainly of mudslinging and ad hominems.

The aftermath was saddening. IIRC, several government ministers made statements on the irresponsibility of those involved, including religious leaders, journalists, and the organisation. The tone of their rebukes made it clear that any similar ruckus would not be left alone to resolve itself in the future.

It did shed some light on the seemingly pathological fear that religious groups here seem to have of homosexuality, as that was the issue that prompted these "Christians" to plot their takeover of AWARE. Something that has puzzled me is why people here seem so afraid of someone else's sexuality. But we're hardly the only ones with that problem, are we?

On politics: It's gotten better, but we have a ways to go before we can be considered a legitimate democracy. We don't have free speech, for one thing, and this is pretty clear. The incumbent ruling party also uses electoral rules to ensure its continued dominance. While they have recently made some changes to the electoral rules to increase the number of opposition MPs in Parliament, none of these changes are substantial in any way.

On the plus side, the government hasn't conducted a large-scale crackdown on political opposition since the 1980s. Hooray! Progress! They've decided to keep a lid on the opposition by changing the electoral rules instead.

Snarky jokes aside, I don't see exactly how an individual is supposed to make a difference to the political landscape here. The ruling party either co-opts you and brings you into the fold, or they marginalise you, or - if you slip up and say something mildly offensive about them - they sue the pants off you. And you must have pants to do anything here. I'm quite sure that going around pantless is illegal here. (Well, garmentless, at any rate.)
posted by WalterMitty at 12:30 AM on July 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


I don't see exactly how an individual is supposed to make a difference to the political landscape here.

Organization and protest often do the trick. Sure, sometimes it doesn't work when the government doesn't care about outside opinion (Burma, Iran, N. Korea), but most other times, the right publicity in combination with a government that wants to save face, can lead to change. One person can't do much alone, but a good organizer can focus and amplify many.
posted by explosion at 4:26 AM on July 16, 2009



Clarity tip: I had to read this sentence like 4 times to figure it out because of the triple negative.

Thio has spoken in Parliament against repealing the law against homosexual sex in Singapore.

against...repealing...a law against...means she is....pro-gay, no wait.

How about this:

Thio has spoken in Parliament in support of the existing law banning homosexual sex in Singapore.

posted by DU at 5:03 AM on July 16, 2009


It's like the John Yoo situation here at Berkeley.

Well, except for the fact that she's a bigot and he's a war criminal.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:17 AM on July 16, 2009


It's a lot easier to be a human rights advocate and oppose homosexuality if you don't think homosexuals are properly "human". Just sayin'.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:36 AM on July 16, 2009


WalterMitty: Thanks very much for your informed comment. Could you satisfy my curiosity as to how the name Thio is pronounced? I'm guessing /tyo/ (one syllable), but I really have no idea.
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on July 16, 2009


Kutsuwamushi - I have many of the same reservations about the "vigorous exchange of ideas" argument the school is advancing as well, but ultimately have to admit that it's convincing if only because the alternative is too problematic. It's undoubtedly somewhat absurd for a known bigot to be teaching an international human rights class, but I in all honesty don't see it as being any more absurd than having someone teach the class who's on record as supporting the death penalty, for instance. Both are, as far as I'm concerned, barbaric and indefensible rejections of fundamental human rights, and further represent categorical denials of inarguable scientific fact. If you're willing to accept for the sake of argument that those two positions are even on the same plane (in terms of their intellectual bankruptcy, both generally and in the human rights context) then it's a very short leap towards denying faculty positions because of their stances on gun control or their unflagging support of the Bush Administration, and ultimately you'll end up with a near uniformity of ideas on the faculty, which is obviously extremely problematic, both from an intellectual and a staffing standpoint (the number of law professors who think exactly the same on all issues is vanishingly small). Had it been my decision, I sure as shit wouldn't have offered her the position, but I understand the somewhat slippery slope the university was navigating when it decided to bring her on board.

No matter what, as a current NYU Law student, I'm sure you'll all be very proud to know that I'm taking a principled stand by not taking her class this year, unless by some cruel twist of fate I have the worst possible class-bidding luck and end up herded in to it anyway, in which case I will, as another poster suggested above, come to class with a straw stuck in my nose every day.
posted by saladin at 5:51 AM on July 16, 2009


languagehat:

"Thio" would be pronounced similarly how you would say "Theo"
posted by merv at 5:52 AM on July 16, 2009


The Dean of NYU Law wrote an email to the community about this mess, republished here.
posted by prefpara at 6:07 AM on July 16, 2009


Interestingly the Mandarin pronunciation of her family name is Zhāng — she has the very common Chinese surname 张.
posted by gubo at 6:11 AM on July 16, 2009


Shoving a straw up your nose? That's a paddlin'.

Misusing your organs? Oh, you better believe that's a paddlin'.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:05 AM on July 16, 2009


I'm an NYU law grad and my union has voted not to participate in on-campus recruiting or other activities while she's there.

While I'm sympathetic to the "vigorous exchange of ideas" argument, I think someone with her views should go in the same category as someone who advocated the return of Jim Crow laws--beyond the pale. I realize not even mainstream American society is there yet, but NYU has a non-discrimination policy and should really stick to it.

(I'm also not giving them a dime, but I never have, so it's a pretty empty threat.)
posted by Mavri at 8:09 AM on July 16, 2009


> "Thio" would be pronounced similarly how you would say "Theo"

I find that hard to believe, because the "th" sound is rare among the world's languages—in Southeast Asia, Burmese has it, but not any forms of Chinese I'm aware of. Let's step back a bit: what form of Chinese is "Thio" from?
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on July 16, 2009


Organization and protest often do the trick. Sure, sometimes it doesn't work when the government doesn't care about outside opinion (Burma, Iran, N. Korea), but most other times, the right publicity in combination with a government that wants to save face, can lead to change. One person can't do much alone, but a good organizer can focus and amplify many.

I would agree, but the problem is that there are many laws in Singapore which potentially criminalise what is taken for granted in most democratic countries. These laws are selectively enforced, based on whether the activity in question is considered a threat to national security. For example, there is a line in the statutes of Singapore regarding unlawful assembly:

A Magistrate or any police officer may command any unlawful assembly or any assembly of 5 or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace to disperse and it shall thereupon be the duty of the members of the assembly to disperse accordingly.

i.e. You technically need a permit to publicly gather in groups larger than 4 people. This blog entry is a fair treatment of the law in question. Laws such as these help to suppress any stirrings of democratic feelings in the people here, since the government can, if it wants to, throw you in jail.

I'm not saying the government is completely immune to public criticism. One thing I believe about this government is that they're not stupid, and understand the possibility of being thrown out of office by a disgruntled populace is very real, if unlikely at this point. It's the carrot-and-stick approach: they use the carrot of apparent concessions, e.g. by increasing the number of Nominated Members of Parliament, they claim to be increasing the diversity of views in Parliament, and thereby reducing the need for opposition party candidates to be voted in. At the same time, they use the stick of veiled threats on anyone who has the temerity to organise and protest.

Incidentally, Thio Li-Ann is not a member of the ruling party. She entered Parliament under the Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) scheme - mentioned above - where people who are not members of any party but are relatively prominent members of society (unlike your standard-issue rank-and-file library clerk or security guard, for example) are given the opportunity to sit in parliament and discuss things and vote on unimportant stuff.

Some NMPs actually use their position well and rock the boat, e.g. Chia Shi Teck or Siew Kum Hong (link to his blog), among others. Siew, in particular, was the legal counsel for AWARE in the abovementioned fiasco, and is the closest thing we have to a champion for gay rights in parliament today, among other things that he advocates. As a NMP I think he did a pretty good job, tbh. His term has just ended (or is ending soon), but he was not reappointed; no surprise there. Rocking the boat is not a good way to get reappointed as a NMP.

languagehat: As regards Thio's surname: yes, it's pronounced "Theo", but I think the sound is slightly shorter than how "Theo" would be pronounced. Sorry I can't give a more concise description, but I'm unfamiliar with how phonetics works.

The reason her name is pronounced differently in Mandarin is because "Thio" is how it's pronounced in her dialect group.

Oh hay my soapbox is all worn out. I'm getting off it now.
posted by WalterMitty at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


languagehat: From what I understand, Thio might be an alternative spelling of "Teo", which is a Hokkien or Teochew version of "Zhang".
posted by WalterMitty at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2009


Whoops - that should read: Only Malaysia and India continue to explicitly criminalize sex between men in Asia.

And isn't that on the way out for India?
posted by FatherDagon at 8:48 AM on July 16, 2009


It's a lot easier to be a human rights advocate and oppose homosexuality if you don't think homosexuals are properly "human". Just sayin'.

Very true. Now do you have any observations that have anything at all to do with the situation described in this fpp?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:21 AM on July 16, 2009


I find the last paragraph of the letter referenced in prefpara's link to be telling:

To be clear, the Law School categorically rejects the point of view expressed in Professor Thio's speech, as evidenced by our early and longstanding commitment to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet we believe academic freedom requires that this disagreement express itself through vigorous, civil debate, rather than an attempt to suppress those views. We fully expect that Professor Thio will embrace the values of academic freedom as well, and be open to the kind of respectful conversation that marks a great institution of higher learning.

I think NYU Law was fully aware of her position as well as her scholarship, and expected the frequently-referenced "vigorous debate" -- may, in fact, have considered her as a worthy catalyst to such debate.

It's Dr. Thio's latant hypocrisy regarding that debate that I find most troubling here. I'm certainly not surprised to find that a politician, lawyer, Singaporean, or born-again Christian is anti-"homosex rights" (where does she get the terms "homosex" and "homosexualism"? Are these common in Singapore or anywhere else?). I'm not surprised to find that a well-regarded law school would voluntarily submit to controversy or promoting vigorous debate (even on subjects that should be well past debate). But the fact that she categorizes any objection to her bigoted views as "bullying" and "intolerance" and even "libel" suggests to me that she is the wrong person for the job.
posted by notashroom at 10:00 AM on July 16, 2009


> From what I understand, Thio might be an alternative spelling of "Teo", which is a Hokkien or Teochew version of "Zhang".

Thanks very much—that makes a lot of sense. I'm guessing it's pronounced something like /tio/ ("Teo") by fellow Hokkien speakers, and "Theo" by everyone else because of the spelling (which who knows where that comes from). And now I too will sneak away before the soapbox falls on my head.
posted by languagehat at 10:22 AM on July 16, 2009


Whose straw is up your nose, durn bronzefist? I was about to say the same thing. How can she say homosexuals only deserve the same human rights she gets if she obviously doesn't believe homosexuals aren't in the same category as she is.
posted by brneyedgrl at 10:47 AM on July 16, 2009


brneyedgrl -- Where do you see this person claiming that homosexuals are entitled to no human rights because they do not qualify? That would go well beyond anything pertaining to marriage, obviously. Is that really what you think? Or is this just a convenient way to paint with the most easily available brush, correct or not?

The argument being put forward isn't that they don't qualify as human, but that the acts don't qualify as protected as human rights. Clearly this is nonsense, and shares a lot of similarity with past arguments regarding race (marriage is a sacred bond -- between two white people).

Bigots of the world have managed to put together more than one stupid idea between them. It doesn't behoove you to reach for the most convenient when they're bending over backward to show you the stupidity of another.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:02 AM on July 16, 2009


"Homosexuals do not deserve special rights, just the rights we all have." uh, like marriage, adoption, and the right to consensual sex with whomever?
posted by brneyedgrl at 11:16 AM on July 16, 2009


How about the right to visit your spouse in the hospital? File taxes together? Estate rights in case of death?
posted by brneyedgrl at 11:18 AM on July 16, 2009


It seems to me she wants to give rights, but only the ones she thinks they deserve. Gay people roll their eyes everytime someone says they want "special rights" Hell, they just want the same things we all want and have in the case of heterosexuals. Gays are human too deserving of the same things you and I have already.
posted by brneyedgrl at 11:25 AM on July 16, 2009


Devils Advocate question #1: What would the reaction be if a man from Saudi Arabia (for example) who has expressed his preference for requiring women to wear the hijab, be subservient, etc, came to teach a course on Human Rights in the Middle East?

Devils Advocate question #2: What would the reaction be if a pro-gay rights professor was drummed out of a school in a religion-heavy red state due to her 'inappropriate' viewpoints?

Devil's Advocate question #3: What if a leading American prof in favour of the death penalty (legal in the US) was drummed out of a Canadian school as a guest lecturer due to those views differing greatly from the majority of Canadians?

To these questions, if another society has different cultural norms which our culture finds abhorrent, in what way can our cultures intermingle from a teaching perspective? Might there be ways to learn from this woman in spite of her prejudices, or even because of them?

All I know is that I studied law in Hong Kong for a semester, and sorting through the bias and differing perspectives in my Human Rights in HK and China course was an incredible learning experience for me, since I was in the minority with respect to my views on certain aspects of equality and freedom.

Conversely, my law school had visiting professors and lectures from across the spectrum who many students fundamentally disagreed with on a wide variety of issues from 3rd world aid and treatment of prisoners to downloading of copyright materials. While I may have disagreed with those lecturers, I would make the argument that those disagreements taught me more about the law, society, and critical thinking than any class where I agreed 100% with a prof.

This isn't to defend or justify this woman's obviously abhorrent views on homosexuality. It is just to say that there may be more to learn from her than meets the eye, especially on such a topic. Or, to quote the NYU press release: "Much of the benefit of engaging with the world lies in confronting profound differences in viewpoint and experience. We can learn from these visitors, and-we hope-they can learn from us."
posted by evadery at 11:34 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Word, evadery. In my case, particularly for freedom of expression/censorship issues, that spectrum of views broadened my perception of arguments on the subject -- often from perspectives that didn't fit my country's historical needs -- but have fit others. (eg: hate speech legislation here versus "freedom" from any kind of government established restrictions on expression elsewhere)

brneyegrl: If this prof took seriously the argument that homosexuals did not deserve human rights because they don't qualify as human, you'd be talking about an entirely different spectrum of considerations. We'd be into "aboriginals mimicking human emotion" territory. Does she say that homosexual slave labour is ok? How about lack of criminal sanctions for violence against homosexuals?

Again, it's to your benefit to recognize the arguments she's actually putting forward -- and similarities to (if not outright duplication of) arguments we've heard before -- not on the nature of the people, but on the nature of the rights. Being on the "right side" doesn't excuse lazy analysis. Sorry.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:47 AM on July 16, 2009


I'm certainly not surprised to find that a politician, lawyer, Singaporean, or born-again Christian is anti-"homosex rights" (where does she get the terms "homosex" and "homosexualism"? Are these common in Singapore or anywhere else?)

I would take issue with the implicit assumption that her views are representative of the majority of Singaporeans'. It may well be true that most Singaporeans share her views, but you're stereotyping, and it's unfair to Singaporeans who have a different view of the issue.

From my vantage point (which isn't very high), I'd say that the majority of Singaporeans are pretty conservative, but more are coming around as the conservative elderly die out, people learn more about other people, and other similar trends.

A tangential issue I am curious about is to why evangelical Christianity has taken root here so easily. I'm almost certain I've seen reports tackling the issue, but I don't know how rigorous the analysis was. If anyone can point me to articles or studies, I'd be grateful.

As for "homosex": no, it's not common. I've never heard anyone else use that term. Is it even a real word?
posted by WalterMitty at 12:02 PM on July 16, 2009


>I'm certainly not surprised to find that a politician, lawyer, Singaporean, or born-again Christian is anti-"homosex rights" (where does she get the terms "homosex" and "homosexualism"? Are these common in Singapore or anywhere else?)

I would take issue with the implicit assumption that her views are representative of the majority of Singaporeans'. It may well be true that most Singaporeans share her views, but you're stereotyping, and it's unfair to Singaporeans who have a different view of the issue.


I apologize if I have offended. I did not mean to say that her views are representative of the majority of Singaporeans, but to say that significant, vocal members of the four groups I mentioned are known for their conservative viewpoints. I also assume that whatever is generally portrayed about Singapore and its citizens in U.S. media is grossly oversimplified and largely based on official statements.

I don't know that I've ever seen/heard "homosex" used elsewhere, either.
posted by notashroom at 12:26 PM on July 16, 2009


Regarding the "having anal intercourse is like sticking a straw in your nose" point:

I have often wished that we could re-frame the debate over gay rights to not talk about sex. Rather, could we all recognize that some men want to pair up as life partners with other men, some women want to pair up as life partners with other women, and sometimes people of opposite sexes want to pair up together. Let's not talk about what they do behind closed doors. That's between them.

The GAY MEN BUTTFUCK EACH OTHER! IT'S SO GROSS! / LESBIAN WOMAN EAT EACH OTHER OUT AND ENGAGE IN TRIBADISM! DISGUSTING! thing is, I think a distraction from the issue of whether people should be free to spend their lives with the individual partner of their choice. What they do behind closed doors is between them, and really has nothing to do with anything.
posted by jayder at 5:32 PM on July 16, 2009


I have often wished that we could re-frame the debate over gay rights to not talk about sex.

Sometimes I wish we could go the other way. That cute straight married couple from church fuck each other stupid every damn day! He fucks her in the ass and she likes it! She fucks him in the ass with a strap-on! Just before he comes, she shoves her finger up his ass and he moans like a Gregorian monk singing right to God Himself! Hallelujah!

Your way is probably better, though.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:17 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I keep wanting to wade into this thread, but I swear, it's so depressing. But I get that feeling a lot in these threads related to gay equality.

If it's not someone telling us that we need to go slow and play chess with our rights in order to get health care reform or something, it's some news about how, in 2009, there are still whole segments of the country that are so homophobic, how civil rights leaders are getting fired because they dared to suggest that gay people deserve equality. how a major tax-exempt church denomination bankrolls a major political initiative to repeal rights for gays or how a university is inviting - under the aegis of promoting a "vigorous exchange of ideas" - someone who thinks being gay is akin to a criminal act and that acting gay should be, in fact, criminalized.

*sigh*
posted by darkstar at 8:50 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


A tangential issue I am curious about is to why evangelical Christianity has taken root here so easily. I'm almost certain I've seen reports tackling the issue, but I don't know how rigorous the analysis was. If anyone can point me to articles or studies, I'd be grateful.

A number of books have been written on why Evangelical Christianity has been so popular here in the US, and most seem to draw the conclusion that the sect's structure is highly populist, promotes democratic principles, is culturally inclusive and contains a certain rigidity in its beliefs that make it desirable to certain personality types. These elements seem to also make it popular in some Asian cultures, and especially here in the US with Korean American immigrants.
posted by zarq at 8:03 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not sure if anyone is still even paying attention to this thread, but I just got the following email from Dean Revesz:


I am writing to let you know that Professor Li-ann Thio informed me today that she is canceling her Fall visit to NYU School of Law as a Global Visiting Professor, explaining that she was disappointed by the hostility of some members of our community to her views regarding homosexuality and gay rights, 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.

As I observed on July 9 in an earlier statement, this issue brings two of our core values—academic freedom and a commitment to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—in tension with each other. On the one hand, NYU is fully committed to the principle of academic freedom and intellectual diversity. The Hauser Global Law School Program—under the auspices of which Professor Thio was invited as a visitor for one semester—grew out of our early recognition that the practice of law has escaped the bounds of any particular jurisdiction, and that legal education must take account of the intertwined nature of legal systems. The program seeks to expose our community to legal scholars who come from and have been shaped by their experiences in different countries, regions, and cultures. Needless to say, the value of the program would be seriously diminished if the visiting scholars all thought of difficult legal issues in the same way. We can learn from these visitors, and—we hope—they can learn from us.

NYU is equally committed to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. NYU and the School of Law extended partner benefits to gay couples long before New York law mandated such benefits. In 1978, NYU Law School became the first law school in the United States to deny access to its career services to employers who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, a practice that the Association of American Law Schools would later require all accredited law schools to follow. We also were leaders in the suit brought by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (“FAIR”) to challenge the Solomon Amendment.

Reasonable individuals can disagree about the relative importance of these values, as evidenced by the many thoughtful messages I have received over the last month regarding Dr. Thio’s appointment. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some recurring questions I have received.

At the time that the faculty members voted on Professor Thio’s appointment, were they aware of the speech she made to the Singapore Parliament on October 23, 2007, forcefully arguing against the decriminalization of consensual sexual acts between men?

When the Global Appointments Committee met in December 2007 to recommend that the faculty vote a visiting appointment to Professor Thio based on her teaching and scholarship, none of its members was aware of the speech. The tenured and tenure-track faculty considered this recommendation during its meeting on January 30, 2008. I was not aware of her speech at that time, and I do not believe my colleagues were aware of it either.

Of course, an electronic search of her public statements would have produced the text of the speech. We did not conduct such a search in considering this appointment, and we have not conducted such searches in considering other appointments. Consistent with the norms of the legal academy, we generally limit our inquiry to the review of academic publications and works in progress, teaching evaluations, and reputation for collegiality.

Should the speech have played a role in the decision as to whether to invite Professor Thio to visit, had the faculty been aware of its existence?

The position taken in the speech should have been irrelevant to our evaluation of Professor Thio, although the argumentation supporting the position might properly have played a role in that evaluation.

Professor Thio’s position in that speech is inimical to the Law School’s position against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Nonetheless, I do not believe that Professor Thio’s opposition to our institutional position should have played any role in our evaluation of her. Leading academic institutions benefit greatly from a diversity of perspectives, not from hiring only people who share the same views.

At the same time, our evaluation of Professor Thio’s strength as a scholar might have been usefully informed by an assessment of the analytic cogency and methodological integrity of the arguments and evidence she marshaled for her position. It would be up to the individual faculty member to determine what, if any, weight to give to the speech to Parliament in judging her as a scholar.

After becoming aware of the speech to Parliament, did NYU Law School ask Professor Thio to withdraw?

It did not.

Should the Law School have revoked the offer once it became aware of Professor Thio’s speech before Parliament?

Once the faculty extends an offer (whether visiting, tenure-track, or tenured) to a professor, it does not revisit that particular offer by continuing to evaluate the strength of the individual’s work. To engage in such continuous evaluation would place an unsustainable burden on the faculty. Such a practice would also undermine the legitimate reliance interest recipients have in their offers. Of course, subsequent work or subsequently discovered work can and does play a role in determining whether future offers are made to that individual.

Should the Law School have revoked the offer once it became aware of Professor Thio’s recent comments to our students?


In the last few weeks, a number of members of our community wrote to Professor Thio to convey their objections to her appointment as a visiting professor. She has indicated that she considers some of these messages to be offensive. In turn, she replied in at least one case in a manner that many members of our community—myself included—consider insulting and hurtful. These exchanges have been posted on various blogs. Members of our community have questioned whether Professor Thio’s statements create an unwelcoming atmosphere that would have prevented students in her classes from having an effective educational experience.

Determining when the academic freedom of a professor is superseded by the need to preserve a viable learning environment for his or her students requires a difficult, case-by-case judgment based upon context, the history of the relationship, and many other factors. But it would be an extraordinary measure, almost never taken by universities in the United States, to cancel a course on the basis of e-mail exchanges between a faculty member and a member of the student body. To do so would eviscerate the concept of academic freedom and chill student-faculty debate. Professor Thio’s withdrawal makes it unnecessary for us to engage in that inquiry.

Should an academic opposed to the recognition of certain important human rights be allowed to teach a human rights course?

An academic’s views on a substantive issue should be irrelevant to his or her suitability to teach a course in a particular area as long as the opposing views are treated fairly in the classroom: A proponent or opponent of the death penalty can be equally qualified to lead a seminar on capital punishment, for example. Any other stance by a university would be a serious affront to academic freedom, would lead to endless political litmus tests, and would greatly impoverish academic institutions, which gain so much from the robust discussion of controversial legal issues. Moreover, we need to recognize that values that might be widely shared in U.S. academic institutions can be highly contested in other countries, and that any serious global educational program, particularly one dealing with international human rights, must pay attention to these differences.

Undoubtedly, the issues raised by Professor Thio’s appointment are among the most difficult faced by academic communities. What are the limits of academic freedom? How should an institution with a proud tradition—as is the case of NYU Law School’s support of the LGBT community—interact with those who disagree strongly with such a tradition? My answers to the questions raised by our community will not be persuasive to everyone. I also stress that they are my personal views, not the consensus view of any decisionmaking body at the Law School. But situations such as these, despite the serious pain that they inflict, also serve as learning experiences. I appreciate the thoughtful messages I have received from students, alumni, and others as the debate unfolded and I am sorry about the considerable pain many members of our community have felt during these discussions.



So essentially, the school never bothered to Google Thio before deciding to hire her, but it doesn't matter because she's a coward who can dish it but can't take it. Democracy wins!
posted by saladin at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2009


Yes, news of that is spreading in the Singapore blogosphere, and I came back to the thread to post that, but you beat me to the punch (by over a day). I haven't noticed the MSM saying anything yet, but here the MSM is kept on a tight noose by the government, and I doubt they want any sort of political debate on something as touchy as gay rights to flare up.

Not sure about 'democracy winning' - it would have been interesting to see the reaction, and if someone might have sensibly debated with her about her views. And democracy also includes the right to espouse unpopular views that you believe in. Perhaps you mean the popular movement for the cancellation of her appointment? In that case, I have nothing to add.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2009


Thanks very much for passing that along, saladin; I actually agree with the dean's points, but I'm glad she was a cowardly coward and withdrew.
posted by languagehat at 10:42 AM on July 23, 2009


I also appreciate the update and agree with the dean's points.

I think Thio's "I'm the victim!" response to the email challenging her position and suitability to the appointment was probably indicative of the degree of rigorous academic debate she would have brought to the discussions on human rights (including LGBTQ rights) at NYU and that her declining the appointment is no great loss to the NYU community.

If you can't take it, don't dish it out, and if you can't back up your argument, ask questions or keep your mouth shut.
posted by notashroom at 6:49 AM on July 24, 2009


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