20 April 2011

Open Letter to Kelly James, Ph.D.

So the gay community is up in arms over a soundbite provided by Kelly James, Ph.D., who is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Winthrop University and who serves as faculty advisor for GLoBAL, Winthrop University's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Ally League. Apparently, so much so that she's receiving hate mail. It's more unfortunate that people are riled to such levels as they are unable to conduct a civil discourse.

If one takes the time to read articles instead of just headlines, one would find out that Professor James is the bloody faculty advisor for the gay group on campus. So, while her concerns are real and her heart is in the right place, unfortunately, her mind hasn't followed suit. Quoth she, in whole,

But, my first thought was that, "I've got to let my students know" so that when they are out and about in Rock hill that they, you know, act straight, And that’s a sad lesson in 2011 to be teaching young people. I mean, it’s been off the books as a mental illness since 1973.

I'm sorry, Professor James, but you couldn't be more wrong.

Your first thought should not have been advising your students to have to "act straight," even if meant to be sarcastic. (On an entirely different matter, there is the whole debate over just what "'acting straight" entails but I am loathe to examine such things at this time.) Such a suggestion, even if made sarcastically, is not the answer and inappropriate.

While I am thankful of your support and know your heart is in the right place, backing up your statement by stating that you were misquoted or that your remarks were taken out of context, and that you were being blatantly obviously sarcastic, is still an inappropriate response to such situations of violence.

Yes, you should be concerned for your students' safety and yes, absolutely you should let your students know about the attack so they can be vigilant.

But hiding who truly are and repressing how they act is not the answer to the problem that exists, which only has been highlighted by this most unfortunate incident.

I am an atheist. But when I see someone celebrating their faith in their home or at their church or even on the street, I scream out at them, "Go on!" because they are being who they are and are free to express themselves as they are. They are not having to repress something, which can lead to grave psychological trauma.

I have personal experience with such grave psychological trauma. I repressed who I was and nearly didn't survive as a result. It was only when I started expressing myself and not hiding behind the "normalcy" of what society expected of me that I was able to flourish. You can read about it in my blog post, It Gets Better.

And no, I'm not advocating that people run out naked in the streets. But there should be a degree of freedom to act, behave, and express one's self in an appropriate manner without having to fear for their safety.

To this end, instead of advising your students to "act straight" in Rock Hill, if I were you, my first thought would be to let my students know of this travesty and devise an appropriate plan to respond, as loudly and vocally as permitted by law, to such an incident. To stand up and say, "We're not going to take this from anyone." To instil courage and confidence in my students, and say "When would you like me to be marching the streets of Rock Hill in support of your right to be who you are?"

That, Professor James, should have been the response from you.

I hope that my response to your involvement in this incident is more reasoned and resonates better with you than the emotional outcries of some of my brothers and sisters.

We are all human beings and creatures of the universe and as such we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. That you have not been treated as such is most unfortunate and a travesty that serves only to worsen this situation.

It is my hope that what I have written here will heal some of the wounds that have stung you in recent days.