Many Grand Rapids Community College students were very disappointed when they heard about the suggestion by board trustee Richard Ryskamp to have a future Diversity Lecture Series speaker who “has tried being gay but now regrets that path or is trying to walk a new path.”
It is disappointing to have a leader of an institution funded by tax dollars imply that sexual orientation is an arbitrary choice, a statement that alienated a number of students he is supposed to be serving. Considering today’s fight for gay rights, the suggestion only holds back the movement from going forward.
Would we invite one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s children to speak about his legacy and then invite a member of the Klu Klux Klan to hear a well-rounded view of the topic? Would we invite a representative of the National Organization for Women to speak about equality in the workforce and then have someone speak about how a woman’s place is the home?
The truth is, as these previous groups have done, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is trying to move forward in society, and inviting someone to speak against them would accomplish little more than promote ignorance and rejection. It is possible to have an intellectual discussion involving religion and gay rights, but it needs to be done in a respectful way and no by inviting a speaker who has been “reformed.”
According to the FBI hate crime statistics for 2011, there were 1,572 people (20.4 percent of total victims) targeted in the U.S. due to sexual orientation, 98.8 percent of those people belonging to the LGBT community.
Hate crimes are carried out by ignorant people who have some unfair bias against those unlike themselves. Should we be promoting this bias?
Perhaps more relevant for early college-aged students, the intentions of the “It Gets Better Project” should be considered. This project is a compilation of videos made by people of all sexual orientations who want to tell young members of the LGBT community—many struggling with suicidal thoughts—that it gets better. It can be argued that a former gay person telling a young adult who may be suicidal that he or she regrets that former path could more destructive than anything else.
It is time to fight the bias. But instead, a GRCC board member—a prominent leader in our campus community—is doing the opposite. And the only board member response to that comment was by Richard Stewart who spoke out in agreement with Ryskamp. No board member responded in support of the Diversity Lecture Series, the Diversity Learning Center or the large number of students that were alienated by Ryskamp’s comments. Not even the well-respected director of the Diversity Learning Center would give a direct response to the trustee’s comments.
It’s time for our elected officials to take responsibility for the students they represent, perhaps in ways they did not foresee when they ran for office. And it’s time for everyone else to stand up for equality. This is the human rights movement of our time. Keeping quiet will not change anything.