Damn proud of my alma mater these days. Prouder than I've ever been of its success in athletics; prouder even than when I strutted out of the Cajundome with undergrad and graduate degrees from UL Lafayette in 1990 and '95.
In 1954 - the year of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and nearly a decade before the violence over integration erupted on college campuses across the Deep South - Southwestern Louisiana Institute, an earlier iteration of UL Lafayette, became the first college in the state to integrate, and it did it peacefully, enrolling 80 black students.
I'm proud of that, too. But it was before my time.
Just as quietly as UL integrated 58 years ago, it began offering a minor in LGBT studies this past spring semester. That's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. You know, the last group of Americans that an unfortunately still-sizeable chunk of the public believes deserves second-class status. The gays.
Although UL is the first university in the state to offer LGBT studies as a minor, it's not the only state college to offer academic courses on gay culture. LSU offers several. The University of Louisville, George Mason University and the University of North Texas offer a minor in LGBT studies, as do other universities across the country. This isn't unique to UL.
The student newspaper, The Vermilion, published a story on the program July 3. KATC picked it up, other media began reporting it and, predictably, the story has caused no small amount of consternation among those for whom consternation is a cottage industry. This shouldn't be a big deal. But it is.
Louisiana Family Forum, of course, got its chastity belt all bunched up by the news, frothing and flailing its vestments in an urgently misleading e-alert to its members: "UL Lafayette yesterday became the first university in Louisiana to offer a minor' in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies. Proponents of the program say the goal of the new degree is to facilitate education and acceptance of the LGBT community.'"
One cannot receive a degree in a minor area of study. A minor is at most meant to enhance the major for which one receives a degree. Yet LFF repeatedly refers to LGBT studies as a degree program, insinuating, as have others, that university dollars are being put toward pushing the "gay agenda." That's not the case. Students can choose from scores of classes that are already offered at the university to satisfy the requirement of the minor - leftist offerings like American and British literature, history of religion, interpersonal communications and even dance. The gays are fabulous dancers.
Professors with misgivings can opt not to have their classes included in the minor.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, South Louisiana's show pony of virtue, sent a letter to UL President Joe Savoie urging him to put the kibosh on the program: "As our nation continues to struggle with high unemployment, higher education's primary mission should be ensuring current and future students have the tools necessary to compete in the 21st century economy," Landry writes.
I'll go along with that. Wouldn't a sociologist or social worker familiar with the LGBT community, trained to understand and appreciate the discrimination and isolation our gay sons, daughters, cousins and neighbors still endure, make them better equipped to do their jobs? The Magic Hate Ball says yes.
A member of the conservative Values Action Team on Capitol Hill, Landry coincidentally has a younger brother who is an openly gay man living in New Orleans. Nicholas Landry doesn't share his sibling's perspective and Friday posted an open note to his brother on Facebook: "Ignorance is not education," the younger Landry writes in part. "Your constituents, heterosexual and homosexual alike, have made huge inroads in working towards equality in our community. By embracing diversity and acknowledging our differences, we gain understanding. Understanding is education."
Millard Mulé, Landry's communications director, didn't respond to an Ind email inquiring about the status of the Landry brothers' relationship. We imagine Thanksgivings are awkward.
Most troubling of all is the blow back from deep-pocketed alumni who are threatening to stop donating to the university. In an email to dozens of friends and colleagues obtained by The Ind, a prominent Lafayette businessman who is a major university benefactor makes his views painfully clear after receiving a routine solicitation letter from the alumni association: "I can't believe that our university that is nestled into such a conservative and Christian community, is going to take the lead amongst colleges and be in the forefront of pushing this agenda. UL is better than this and should be in the forefront of much bigger and better things. I am embarrassed to be a UL graduate today and have elected to throw this letter in the trash."
That's a pity.
Other alumni who have long financially supported the university are calling not only for a hasty end to the program but for the sociology professor who started it to be fired.
The coordinators of the program acknowledge that inclusion and acceptance of LGBT students on campus is a goal of the program. But this is first and most importantly about academics. And besides, most college kids don't share their grandparents' views on sexuality because, you know, computers and stuff.
There have long been curricula at universities across the country, many of which offer degrees, that grew out of the social and civil issues of their day. Women's and black studies owe their birth to Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. UL also offers a minor in Cajun and Creole studies.
What these curricula have in common is academic study of groups that have been marginalized and suppressed. LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our day. It deserves academic attention as much as the LGBT community deserves the same rights as women and blacks.
Most of us in Lafayette aren't inclined toward conniption when we see women step into voting booths or black people queue up at a cafeteria. This paroxysm, too, will pass. Get used to it, folks: the gays ain't going anywhere.
I'm proud UL's sociology department is taking the lead and equally proud the administration is supporting it. That's true academic freedom.
UL President Joe Savoie pointed out in his blog that LGBT-focused courses have been offered for a half century at nearly 200 universities around the country as he calmly and lucidly explained the rationale for LGBT studies: "Regardless of our personal feelings, as an academic institution, the university is obligated and committed to, within the law, the discovery and dissemination of knowledge, the protection of individual and group rights, and the preservation of religious and academic freedoms.
"Our desired posture is to be neither advocate nor adversary on controversial social issues of the day. Rather, our responsibility is to provide in an impartial manner an opportunity for investigation, analysis and understanding."
That's my university president.
Are there in-your-face, politically active gays and lesbians? Of course. G-stringed nancy boys in leather chaps gallivanting about in gay pride parades? Check. Louisiana Family Forum would have us believe that's the norm. But the vast majority of the LGBT community just wants to live quiet, productive lives, have rewarding work careers and relationships and enjoy the same rights, privileges and civil protections as the rest of us. That's their "agenda."
Oh, and dancing. Lots of gay dancing.