Wed, Jul 22, 2009
The New Paper
She's not against gay people, just against gay agenda

By Tay Shi'an

SHE'S tired of the 'bullying' and 'torrent of abuse' she has received for her views on homosexuality.

She questions why her detractors have chosen to attack her personally and jeopardise her job, instead of focusing their attack on her views.

And she asks if people can appreciate the cost she has paid for holding on to her convictions and principles.

Dr Thio Li-ann expressed these views in an 18-point memo she sent to the dean of the New York University (NYU) law school and some faculty members, a copy of which has been posted on a US legal blog.

The New Paper reported last week that Dr Thio, a law lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has been criticised by some of NYU's students, faculty and alumni.

This was after it became known that she will be teaching a human rights course at its School of Law in the fall semester in September, as a visiting professor.

Some questioned how the former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), with her outspoken views about the gay community, could be allowed to teach human rights.

Dr Thio's latest e-mail, sent last Saturday, was in response to a letter sent by an African-American gay man to the law school.

The man, Mr Malik Graves-Pryor, is also an NYU staff member and NYU law student. He had asked for her appointment to be terminated.

Both letters were reproduced in full earlier this week on AboveTheLaw.com, a US legal blog.

NYU spokesman Jason Casell confirmed in an e-mail to The New Paper on Sunday that the blog contains the full memo that Dr Thio had sent to the dean, global visiting faculty, and global programme administrators, under which she had been invited to teach at NYU.

He said the university's stand towards Dr Thio's appointment has not changed.

It had earlier said that Dr Thio was selected based on her published academic scholarship, that she will be a valuable contribution to the classroom, and that there will be 'dynamic exchange' between herself and students and faculty who are in 'sharp disagreement' with her point of view.

Dr Thio did not respond to queries from The New Paper, sent to her both directly and through NUS.

Here are some excerpts from her memo:

People misrepresenting what I said

'I am a little tired of the torrent of abuse and defamation that I have been receiving, and blatant emotive misrepresentations of my position.'

No one should lose job because of sexual orientation, but...

'I am tired of the insinuations that I am in favour of oppressing any community in Singapore or elsewhere.

'I would be the first to oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or ideological persuasion in my own academic environment.

'(But) While I do not think anyone should lose their job because of sexual orientation (as this is irrelevant to the performance of the job), I would not support, for example, same-sex marriage...

'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 (like insults and death threats).'

Hate my views, but why hate me?

'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.

'I appreciate I am in a minority in the context of US academia for holding this view, but does this then disqualify me as immoral...and 'unfit to teach human rights?'

'Does he appreciate the repercussions I have sustained to my academic reputation for my political views expressed in the context of parliamentary debates in an independent country? I have paid the cost for my convictions and principles.'

Why am I not allowed to have a different opinion?

'Now, I do not expect you to agree with my views. But does Mr Graves-Pryor expect me to conform with his? What bullying.

'Let's be tolerant but not tolerate whom we consider intolerant. That is totalitarianism by any other name.'

Nothing to do with what I teach

'Now, as a scholar, I have not written about homosexuality and the law in any direct sense. Simply because it is not a research interest of mine, or has not been up till now. It is also an area which attracts a great deal of personal attack, which no sane person invites, as this current furore shows.'

Why fixate on one speech?

'I am tired of this obsessive and narcissistic obsession with ONE of the speeches I made during my 2.5 years tenure in Parliament. (Dr Thio's 2007 speech against repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code, which deems sex between men as a crime).

'Perhaps my detractors would like to review the range of my speeches, from organ donation to foreign workers to women's rights to by-election motions to the right to vote, before they so readily condemn me.'

What say NYU

'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. Would any academic (who is reasonably sane) want to go into a situation where hatred of a person, as opposed to 'sharp disagreement' with their views, is the order of the day?

'If NYU Law as an institution is committed to a genuine diversity of viewpoints and respectful interlocution, it would be an institution I would be honoured to be given the privilege to teach at. If not, then be frank and say so.'

- Additional reporting by Celine Lim

Could classes be cancelled because too few signed up?

DR Thio's detractors are now speculating if her classes could be cancelled, making the debate swirling around her a 'moot point'.

AboveTheLaw.com, the US legal blog which posted Dr Thio's e-mail, quoted an unnamed source as saying that both of Dr Thio's classes are 'severely undersubscribed'.

She is scheduled to teach two classes: Human Rights in Asia, which currently has a capacity of 45, and Constitutionalism in Asia, which is capped at 25 students.

The blog said the first class had received only nine bids after the first round of bidding, and the second received five.

NYU's spokesman neither confirmed nor denied these figures. He did not respond to queries from The New Paper on Sunday whether Dr Thio's classes may be cancelled.

He would only say: 'Our registration process is ongoing through the end of August.'

Meanwhile, Heartland Alliance, a human rights organisation, has also written to Dean Richard Revesz of NYU Law School, urging for Dr Thio's appointment to be rescinded, indicating that they will boycott recruitment events by NYU otherwise.

The e-mail was signed by Mr Sid Mohn, the President of Heartland Alliance and a United Church of Christ clergyman, as well as Mr Eric Berndt, the supervising attorney for Heartland Alliance.

In the e-mail, they said: 'We are writing to express Heartland Alliance's disapproval of your decision to hire Thio Li-Ann and to urge you to rescind your offer of employment to her....

'Heartland Alliance will not participate in on campus or online recruiting hosted by the NYU School of Law unless these concerns are satisfactorily addressed. We would welcome an opportunity to discuss this decision further.'

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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