Louisiana Lawmaker Weirdly Obsessed with Making University Drop LGBT Studies Program

Republican Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana is putting pressure on the University of Louisiana Lafayette to drop a new program that offers students a minor in LGBT studies. Since the program’s beginning earlier this year, Landry and university president Joseph Savoie have been arguing about the merits of its existence. The argument has now escalated as Landry publicly released his most recent letter to Savoie, in which he declares that the university is “placating to political pressures.” (Although we couldn’t find the text of the original letter, the fact that it’s been quoted by multiple sources suggests the misuse of “placating” is in context.) Landry claims that the university is misusing its “limited resources in the name of a political agenda” at the expense of the students — which he feels is “unacceptable.”

Additionally, Landry writes, “I want our young people prepared for workforce, and the LGBT minor does not assist them toward that goal.” Okay Landry, you got us here. Learning academic knowledge and critical thinking is different than learning concrete skills like computer programming.  But if you want to get rid of programs because they don’t equip students with concrete skills for jobs, you should probably look into getting rid of liberal arts in general. Please don’t do that.

Landry’s remarks have sparked a shit storm of disapproval, including a response from HRC spokesperson Charles Joughin, who told the Times-Picayune that “Educating students on the lives and history of LGBT people is anything but political.” Joughin added, “Congressman Landry may refuse to acknowledge the existence and struggle of our community, but that’s no reason to deny others who wish to learn a chance to do so.”

It is political to learn about the lives and history of LGBT people, but that it isn’t the same thing as a political agenda, and it isn’t something to apologize for. Whether or not you respect people’s agency to self-identify and whether or not you think all identities should have equal rights under the law is a highly political issue and an extremely important one. And we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

LGBT studies programs are precious. They give us permission and guidance to learn about people like ourselves (and/or different than ourselves), people with a history and a culture that is valuable and something to be proud of. But I don’t need to tell you about that. Around these parts of the internet, there are a lot of strong, positive feelings about college LGBT studies programs. Many of you are products of these programs, many of you are enrolled in them right now and many more of you probably had to create your own private LGBT studies program because you didn’t have access to one, largely because of people like Landry.

Education is a big, important step on the path to real equality. If people were taught about the contributions of queers to society as a whole as well as our special, vibrant history and culture, it would go a long way in the overall perception of our community as deserving of basic rights, as well as supporting and validating those who do identify as queer (which is a big part of the thinking behind initiatives like California’s FAIR Act). As Landry’s openly gay brother Nicholas wrote on Facebook, “By embracing diversity and acknowledging our differences, we gain understanding. Understanding is education.”

But as it stands, you have to seek out that knowledge, and it’s a very self-selecting group of people who do so. And this debate isn’t even over a mandatory curriculum! It’s over an optional college minor with only two specifically required courses and a requirement that three courses be taken from a long list of classes like “Art Since 1945″ and “Cultural Anthropology.” That doesn’t exactly sound like an intensive mandatory homosexual brainwashing extravaganza to me, but what do I know?

Regardless of how this story gets spun, it is apparent that the basic issue here is homophobia, and the belief that making knowledge about the queer community available is not only not worthwhile, but dangerous. Landry can say anything he wants about LGBT studies not preparing students for the workforce, but to deny people the opportunity to learn about a group of people can only stem from (and perpetuate) a hatred of that group, and a desire to see its marginalization continue. Also, Landry’s civil rights voting record shows that he supports keeping marriage between a man and a woman and also wants to actively prevent same-sex marriage, so if his work to prevent the LGBT minor isn’t part of a political agenda, I don’t know what is.

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Gabrielle writes facts and feelings from an old brick house in an outer borough of New York City. When she's not writing about lesbians, she's editing/writing/producing things at her day job in the beauty department of a well-known online style magazine. In her spare time, she helps organize the New York City Dyke March and makes up songs about her dog.

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12 Comments

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    As a failed product of the UK’s single subject further education system I feel incredibly strongly about this. I chose to study Biology and as such I had to set aside my chances at studying art, literature, geology, communication, history, sport, media, fashion, english, geography, feminism, LGBT history or politics or whatever else I felt the need to study at age 16.

    The US system which would have allowed me to study a variety of subjects, to find my interests at a more adult age, and to study other matters alongside it is a dream of mine.

    I envy those who have that option and I cannot stand those who would seek to deny that to anyone.

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      I sympathise, but as someone who started her undergrad in America and then completed her higher education in Britain, I can also attest that the American system’s not magic. It’s very easy to be a lost and clueless 18-year-old picking up random, interesting, but expensive modules in classics, then art history, then French, then English, without it adding up to a complete degree. One of the reasons America’s got a high rate of students-not-graduating-uni is because of this ‘overwhelmed by options’ problem. And you’re still $60,000 or something in debt whether you eventually completed a useful degree or not.

      Britain’s system has a lot of merits; as far as exploring one’s interests, I find that loading up on books in the library, going to museums, watching the Beeb is a pretty good way of broadening the horizons… and it’s free and comes without exams stress.

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    I live in north Louisiana and UL is the most lgbt friendly school in La.You can go down there and you can always find a party full of lesbians. It’s nice

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    I live in north Louisiana and went to UL last year. I ended up having to transfer due to personal and financial reasons, but I was so proud of the school for refusing to drop the minor after the backlash that happened (and apparently, is still happening). GLASS (the GSA at UL) is also quite active on campus and the student body always seemed supportive of everything we did (or at least tolerant, in some cases). We put on a drag show last fall and ended up having to turn guests away because the fire marshal wouldn’t let anymore people into the room!

    Even though I don’t actually go there anymore, I still partly claim UL as my college (I did spend a year there, got several credits, took my first women’s studies class, and poured a crapton of money into the bookstore), and I love seeing UL in the news for this minor because it really is a HUGE step for education in Louisiana.

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    If I were to go to school to study chemistry or astronomy, I can maybe see his point about it not assisting my career future. That being said, if I were going to school to study something like sociology or psychiatry or evenstudying to be a teacher of any type, I can absolutely see where a minor in LGBT studies would not only proof helpful but almost necessary. I try very hard to see controversial matters from all sides but on this one I am completely confused by this guy’s supposed logic. Good luck to UL!

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    It really isn’t what major you pick that makes your career, it’s how you apply those skills. I was an anthropology and women’s studies double major, two seemingly pointless majors, but if you know how to play your cards right, they can get you awesome jobs. Right now, my goal is to get my master’s in higher ed. admin/counseling so that I can advocate for students and youth. That might not seem like a smart career move, but I want to make a difference in the world. It just frustrates me when people look at my majors and think that I’m never going to have a career. My girlfriend is going for her PhD in electrical engineering. Is she doing something completely different than me? Yes. Is she going to make a fuckton more money than me? Yes. Do I care? Nope. Because that’s what she enjoys and is good at. I’m good at working with people. I want to help people. If that’s what my “pointless” degrees will get me, then so be it. End rant. (Sorry, shit like this just really makes my blood boil, because I know how important it is.)

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