Love your brother, not his boyfriend

Here at the University, we can’t stay away from controversy to save our lives. We’re always doing something crazy — hacking away at tenure, trying to close General College, merging with hospitals. The latest brouhaha? The University is too open minded.
Seems we’ve got gays and lesbians running around, and we don’t even care! Heck, we even have an official policy promising not to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. But the icing on the cake is our domestic-partner benefits plan — a female professor can have this institution pay for her girlfriend’s health insurance, for Pete’s sake. Has the world gone mad?
Just about, according to several Christian groups. They say policies like these undermine their faith, and they’re distributing lists to their members decrying organizations that offer benefits to their employees’ gay and lesbian partners. Along with the University, other targets include AT&T, Walt Disney and US West.
One of the groups distributing this list of offending companies and institutions is the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., which claims to have about 400,000 members. The group’s spokesman, Allen Wildmon, said they’re not calling for a boycott, they just want their members to make informed decisions.
“If the University of Minnesota wants to promote homosexuality, it’s their business,” he said in a thick southern accent. “But I don’t have to go to the University of Minnesota if I don’t want to. This is still America.” (Darn straight, mister.) But don’t get him wrong.
“These are people that need love and understanding. The last thing they need is for the Christian community to hate ’em,” he explained. In fact, his group doesn’t just offer lip service; it actually tries to help people save themselves. “Let me point out we have six full-time lawyers, we have radio stations and outreach programs with Christian counselors that meet once a month to help people come out of their sexual addictions — be they pornography or a homosexual lifestyle.” Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it? People helping people and all? (As an aside: Wildmon also had some choice words about the media and how they’re always labeling fundamentalist Christians as extreme. Well, if the crown of thorns fits. …)
All this rhetoric might lead one to believe the University is a big happy place where we love our brothers and sisters and anything goes. Wrong. For one thing, look at that benefits plan for gays and lesbians — it’s nothing like the plan for straights. Heterosexuals just have to jot down their spouse’s name on a form and boom, the person has health coverage.
Gays and lesbians, on the other hand, can look forward to a nice paper chase. First a couple must declare that yes, they are engaged in a long-term, committed relationship and intend to remain together indefinitely; no, they’re not married and don’t have other domestic partners; yes, they are the same sex and are unable to marry each other under Minnesota law; yes, they are at least 18 years old; yes, they share a residence; no, they’re not related by blood; yes, the children identified in the policy qualify as dependents under IRS regulations; and yes, they are jointly responsible to each other for the necessities of life and if asked they could produce documentation of at least three of the following — joint mortgage or lease, joint bank account, joint liabilities such as credit cards, joint ownership of significant property, durable property or health care powers of attorney, the naming of each other as primary beneficiary in wills, written agreements or contracts regarding the relationship showing mutual support obligations or joint ownership of assets acquired during the relationship. It’s no cake and champagne.
Add to that the fact that the partners of University employees must go out and get their own health insurance, then the University will reimburse them every three months — up to about $2,200 a year, which is probably not going to cover most plans. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough.
Marjorie Cowmeadow, an associate dean in General College who this week is celebrating her 18th year with her partner, Theresa, said she has a couple of reactions when she hears about groups like Wildmon’s.
“First of all, being accused of diversity-friendliness is not a pejorative term; I’ll take that label anytime,” she said. “Second, if you think this is diversity-friendliness, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We have a long way to go. I hear this and I think, ‘Excuse me? Hello!'” For the most part, Cowmeadow said, she gets a lot of support from the people in General College. And because she’s so out, she said, people have no secrets they can use against her. But the feeling of good will isn’t campuswide.
Take the 1994 University study that looked at students’ attitudes towards people of other races, sexual orientations and those with disabilities. More than 70 percent of gay men surveyed said they’d experienced harassment at the University, and all of the lesbians questioned said they’d been harassed. Here’s how a few straight students responded to the survey:
“I’m really getting sick of all this gay and lesbian homo faggot shit. Get rid of it,” and “I think that pandering to degenerates (homosexuals) and the like is a step toward failure,” and “America is such a free country that people think they can do whatever they want, for instance harassing helpless people, seeing lesbians and gays ruin our society, rape; it’s all crap that we can go on naming.”
Yeah, we’re too accepting of homosexuality — veritable bleeding hearts. Beware the University or we’ll fill young minds with thoughts of acceptance and equality. Actually, this anti-gay campaign might not be such a bad thing. The University doesn’t need more hate graffiti, more stares or more hurtful remarks. If homophobes want to stay away, let them.
Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday.