Please sign Amherst College petition against homophobia

If you are an Amherst College student, alumnus or alumna, please sign this petition:

“We request that the Trustees, acting for Amherst College, explicitly dissociate the institution itself from Professor Hadley Arkes’s divisive and destructive views and his intellectual dishonesty.  Further, we request that Professor Arkes be asked either to refrain from citing his association with Amherst College in his extracurricular writings or that any such association be accompanied by a disclaimer stating that his views do not represent Amherst College.”

If you want to add your name to this petition, do so at “Join Us: Oppose Amherst College’s Tacit Support of Hate Speech.”

[As of February 2014, the petition had been signed by more than 100 Amherst College alumni from 17 classes communicating by e-mail. As of Feb. 20, 2014, the petition is now online at The Petition Site.]

Context of the petition

Arkes compares homosexuality to sex with animals, pedophilia, and necrophilia. He has also stated that the number of pregnancies from rape is “minuscule,” because the female body may act to prevent conception in such situations. As a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, National Review and other publications, Arkes influences decision-makers such as Justice Antonin Scalia, who has echoed has ideas. In the process, he typically describes himself (accurately) as the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, but does not say that his ideas differ from the official position of  the college.

When a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member recently made statements similar to those of Arkes, the dean there reiterated the right of free expression but also called his words “hurtful, offensive language” that was ““inconsistent with the culture of our institution.”

A group of alumni has asked President Biddy Martin to do the same, but she has refused, writing in her blog that doing so would clash with her commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.

Students and alumni from many classes are being urged to sign a petition to the trustees in hopes that so many people will do so that the college will take the issue of homophobia more seriously, as it eventually did after initially refusing to speak against the Vietnam War and apartheid.


4 Responses to Please sign Amherst College petition against homophobia

  1. George Abnego says:

    I’m not very familiar with Hadley Arkes, but empty accusations like this make me want to support him. The two quotes by Arkes that you display in your right sidebar seem quite reasonable, and yet you after no argument to the contrary. Instead, YOU engage in ugly speech designed to intimidate and squelch free expression. For example, you use the ridiculous word “homophobia” as a club, a word designed to stop rational thought and inflame emotions.

    There is a strong case to be made that homosexuality is probably best recognized as a mental illness, manifesting as deviant sexual behavior. If Dr. Arkes subscribes to this view, that would mean he has good reason to make the statements you’ve quoted here. These statements don’t indicate any extreme irrational fear or prejudice against you. Therefore your inflammatory smear word homophobia does not apply.

    Homosexuals are not a special class, and do not deserve special privileges or special protections. In America, individuals deserve the protection, not special groups. I reject your demands for special treatment, and I will write to Biddy Martin to tell her I appreciate her sensible response to your complaint.

    • Robert Nathan '70 says:

      Mr. Abnego seems to think criticizing Mr. Arkes or labeling him a bigot squelches his right to free expression. This is ludicrous. No one has attempted to stop Mr. Arkes from expressing anything. People have sought to point out that his intellectual dishonesty and bigotry are — or should be — an embarrassment to the institution where he teaches. If anyone is to be fairly accused of intimidation, Mr. Arkes has earned that badge conclusively. He has said that all homosexual men are disease-carriers. He has argued for young people to be taught that homosexuality is an illness that can be cured — thereby sanctioning forms of emotional torture called “reparative therapy,” which has been shown to do great damage to those subjected to it and which state legislatures have begun to call a crime against children. It is Mr. Arkes who is engaging in intimidation by using his academic position to spread hateful falsehoods. When you call people disease-carriers you have come dangerously close to what the Nazis said about Jews. As the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Museum reminds us, “A recurrent theme in Nazi antisemitic propaganda was that Jews spread diseases.” That is one of Mr. Arkes’s themes in writing about homosexuals. Perhaps he would care to tell us how he distinguishes his view of the world from Nazi propaganda. One doubts he would try since there is little distinction to be made.

      As for Mr. Abnego’s own intellectual dishonesty, the weight of research argues strongly against his view of the world and paints him for what he is — either a dishonest bigot or an uninformed one. Beginning with Evelyn Hooker’s seminal work in 1956 and 1957, psychiatrists were uniformly incapable of selecting homosexuals from a large population who were given the standard psychological tests and personality inventories on which they relied to diagnose mental illness. This work is by now legendary. Despite Hooker’s work being repeatedly verified by others, the American psychiatric establishment, having taken over the role of the Church, simply ignored the research and persisted in its bias. Hooker was made into a pariah in many professional circles for having embarrassed her panel of experts. They didn’t like being made to look foolish and Hooker had revealed them for what they were: bigots with an agenda. In response they pretended that Hooker and her research didn’t exist. Mr. Agnego is living in the 1950s; homosexuality has long since been proven not to be a mental illness and to be a natural human sexual variation.

      But Mr. Abnego hauls out that old straw horse, “special treatment.” No, Mr. Abengo, gay people have asked only to be treated like all other citizens. Mr. Abnego yanks out the word “smear,” which is what people do when they’re fairly criticized and have no reasonable answer. They shout “smear.” By describing gay people as mentally ill, Mr. Abnego, you are engaging in a “smear.” You give the word “homophobia” — the irrational hatred of gay people — meaning. You are to be pitied. Mr. Arkes, however, in inciting hatred of homosexuals, deserves no pity, merely the condemnation of his peers. The Amherst faculty, its Board, and its president — like the psychiatric establishment in 1957 — have turned a blind eye to hate speech and bigotry. As for their reasons, one can only guess, but it seems likely that the faculty are more concerned with their paychecks than their honor, and the Board and the president are more concerned with raising cash than confronting the ugliness they have tolerated for too long. None of them are to be pitied. They are to be condemned as cowards for remaining silent, under the self-aggrandizing cloak of “academic freedom,” in the face of virulent hate speech. History will not judge them well.

  2. “Homophobia” is not a ridiculous word; it is useful for describing people (like Mr. Abnego?) whose distaste for people with a same-gender sexual preference prevents them from acknowledging that those people are members of the human race just like themselves.

    Given the current understanding of same-gender sexual preference, there is basically NO “case to be made that homosexuality is probably best recognized as a mental illness”. People who cling that view are ignoring reality (most likely due to homophobia — see above).

    Homosexuals (and lesbians) are not asking to be considered a special class — they are specifically asking NOT to be so considered, so that they may freely marry and raise children just like everyone else. It is the people who would deny them that freedom who want to perpetuate the myth that they are a special class that deserves to be denied the rights and protections that others enjoy.

  3. Robert Yamins '72 says:

    Mr. Abnego:

    Given the paucity of replies to this web site taking any position at all on the matters raised here, I should in fairness thank you for taking the trouble to write. But I also hope that future replies from you or anyone else will be more thoughtful than your first one.

    “Empty accusations”?? There are reams of documents and analysis on this site to support the points that has been made. Did you look at any of it?

    Who in fact is making “empty” statements here? Some of your own:

    “… [we] after [sic] no argument to the contrary”?? What about the statement and emails of President Biddy Martin that you found here, and that you said you concur with?

    “Instead, YOU [we] engage in ugly speech designed to intimidate and squelch free expression”?? Where? What ugly or intimidating speech have we engaged in? What free speech have we squelched? We have allowed, and continue to allow, you to make your comments freely here. In fact that is more than Amherst College has allowed us on these issues within the College’s community, as is detailed elsewhere on this site.

    “There is a strong case to be made that homosexuality is probably best recognized as a mental illness, manifesting as deviant sexual behavior.” There is?? What evidence did you offer for that?

    “If Dr. Arkes subscribes to this view, that would mean he has good reason to make the statements you’ve quoted here.” Really?? Why? Since when do credentials and standing automatically equate with the veracity of claims? May I suggest you read the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    As for your other assertions, the other respondents above have addressed those quite thoroughly. However, if you do write to President Martin as you said you will, perhaps you will consider doing so openly, right here in your next reply, so that we all might see an example of what you mean by “a sensible response to your [our] complaint”. Who knows, it might also begin the dialogue within the Amherst College community on these matters that we’ve been prevented thus far from having.

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