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by Tara Cavanaugh
Dr. Timothy Dyer, former regent and alumnus of Eastern Michigan University, hopes to eradicate homophobia with education. Dyer has pledged a $1.5 million gift to EMU to establish a Chair in Forensics/Debate and Human Rights. The Chair will work to establish a Center for the Study and Research of Equality and Human Rights. EMU will receive the money upon Dyer’s death.
“I would just like someday to see that discrimination is not a big issue anymore, and bullying is not a big issue anymore,” Dyer said. “Education is the only way to eliminate ignorance. It will take time, and a lot of conversation.”
To encourage conversation, Dyer sponsored two campus-wide events on eliminating homophobia. One of the events on Oct. 26 was a panel discussion on “Race and Sexuality.” The panel included Dyer, Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan, Dr. Dwight A. McBride, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dyann Logwood, an instructor in EMU’s Department of Women and Gender Studies. The panelists talked about problems they encountered with race and sexuality in their opening remarks, and they also took questions from the audience.
Kaplan talked about the need to recognize different groups within the LGBT community. “It is a diverse community,” Kaplan said to the auditorium packed with more than 250 students. “I think sometimes you will find there are communities that feel disenfranchised from the LGBT community. They look at the face of the community, and it is predominantly white, predominantly male.”
Kaplan said he hoped that different groups in the LGBT community could learn to be sensitive to each other’s differences and work together.
McBride told the audience he wasn’t comfortable coming out until he went to graduate school. He said he’s been comfortable with his sexuality as an adult, except for certain times during his career. “As a dean, you are part of the symbolism of the institution. People start to assess whether your gayness might be a distraction,” he said.
“There is a reason we only have, to date, about 22 people who are openly gay university presidents in the country. The pathway for gays and lesbians at that level of work in higher education is still not clear,” said McBride.
Pugh acknowledged the difficulties being the first openly gay member of the Detroit City Council. He also said that he has hope for the future. “I got endorsed by the Council of Baptist Pastors in Detroit” during his campaign, he said. “As a gay man that’s a milestone. It’s a new day. It’s not as difficult as some stories would have you believe.”
During the Q&A session, Diviin Huff, a graduate student at EMU who also teaches high school in Detroit, asked the panelists how teachers could be better prepared to deal with LGBT student bullying.
“Part of that is they don’t know how to address it,” Kaplan answered. “I can tell you, a lot of districts who do have anti-bullying policies that are LGBT inclusive still have this problem because you also need to train staff and students to recognize the bullying and realize that this is wrong.”
At the reception after the discussion, Huff said she doesn’t feel that teachers and staff talk about LGBT bullying enough. “It seems like it would help if the staff were trained in conversations like those, so when they see it really happen, they know how to address it directly.”
Huff worries that LGBT students can feel unaccepted at home, school and church. “Children that grow up in the LGBT skin need a safe place to go to, and an adult that they can have as an advocate in their corner,” she said. “The biggest thing is to fight isolation and promote acceptance.”
At the reception, Dyer said he was pleased with the conversation at the panel discussion, although he acknowledged it was only the beginning of eradicating homophobia.
“An institute of higher learning is the ideal place for a center that is hopefully going to help enlighten ignorance,” he said. “We want to point out that one thing does not identify you.”
Dyer’s hope that education is the way to eradicate homophobia, stems from his experience as an educator. Dyer has worked as a teacher, debate/forensic coach, principal, mayor of Ypsilanti, superintendent of the Wayne-Westland school district, superintendent of the nation’s largest school district in Phoenix, Ariz., and executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.