In a post yesterday I asked, Should someone who teaches Human Rights support human rights for lgbt people? The question is raised by NYU’s invitation to Thio Li-ann to teach Human Rights in the fall. Thio is an outspoken opponent of gay rights who has argued repeatedly and graphically that her country should continue to criminalize gay sexual acts.
While I quoted extensively from the Inside Higher Education piece, I did not quote any of Dr. Thio’s fiery response to the concern over her invitation. Before we get to the students’ statement, here’s some of what Dr. Thio said via email to Inside Higher Ed:
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, free conscience, free thought — that is a cardinal principle for every academic community. I hold to it, in my own law school, and I would expect the NYU law community to do so as well. We can be united in commitment to this principle, without slavishly bowing to a demanded uniformity or dogma of political correctness set by elite diktat. I cannot say I am impressed by this ugly brand of politicking which I hope is not endemic,” she wrote. Thio added that she “was encouraged when the president of an NYU student organization committed to free debate wrote to welcome me and to point out that the negative, prejudicial and frankly, hostile views expressed are not representative of everyone in the student body. […]
“Do some Americans by appropriating the rhetoric of human rights assume they can impose their views on another sovereign state? Is there a human right to sodomy? Is this a core right or a contested one? There are countervailing views that this is the wrong way to characterize the issue — so do students who dislike this view refuse to engage with dissenting views? Or seek to censor views they disagree with? That’s hubris. I think certain Americans have to realize the fact that there are a diversity of views on the subject and it is not a settled matter; there is no universal norm and it is nothing short of moral imperialism to suggest there is. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no consensus on this even within the U.S. Supreme Court and American society at large, even post Lawrence v. Texas.” (The court case is the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that barred states from criminalizing consenting sexual acts between adults of the same sex.)
[W]e ask NYU School of Law to make a public statement condemning her remarks made in Singaporean Parliament, reassert its commitment to diversity, and assure that the concerns of LGBT students be considered in future hirings.
Nonetheless, the Board thinks it best to fight Dr. Thio’s offensive views not by silencing her but by engaging in a respectful and productive dialogue about the boundaries of human rights. This fall, we plan to hold events to explore issues of academic freedom, LGBT rights, and human rights in Asia, and we look forward to Dr. Thio’s participation in the discussion. We very much appreciate the comments from students, alumni, and other concerned parties, and we expect the passion and interest to continue as we plan our events for next year.
President Obama recently invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to affirm his belief that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” From the cornfields of Iowa to the street markets of India, history is moving towards equality for the LGBT community. We are confident that tolerance and diversity will triumph over hatred and bigotry.
In my few comments yesterday I said that I thought the students and faculty quoted in the Inside Higher Ed story got their response about right. That early opinion goes doubly for the student statement today.
Me, I have no desire to censor Dr. Thio’s views. I wouldn’t be offering her a teaching spot at NYU, but that’s not just because of her views. Read the text of her speech arguing that homosexuality should be illegal. (YouTube video of the speech is available in three parts — here and here and here.)
She’s no intellectual heavyweight. The broad circulation of her views will lead to a detailed, credible debunking. The more those views are “debated,” the better for those of us who believe that lgbt people are deserving of all of the rights and responsibilities that every other citizen has. And I believe lgbt citizens are deserving of those rights and responsibilities both here and in Singapore.
LATER: NYU Law student Jim McCurley writes an open letter. Li-Ann Thio replies that she wants to meet face to face. And David Bernstein at The Volockh Conspiracy takes issue with comments from Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors.