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G-Sync: Silence's Puzzling Evidence

Tommy Allen is silent no more.

Woodrick Diversity Learning Center, organizer of the Diversity Lecture Series, invited LZ Granderson to speak at Fountain Street Church on Feb. 13. Granderson earnestly spoke to the large audience about his life story, which included highlights of his time at ESPN and his newest gig at CNN. He also shared stories of his mother, failed marriage, teenage son, and partner. Granderson even shared his religious convictions, reflecting on the very values many West Michigan dwellers embrace as their own.  

Granderson closed with a challenge, borrowing a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

The audience erupted in thunderous applause. Oh, did I mention Granderson is gay?  It shouldn't matter, right? (It shouldn't.)

Two Grand Rapids Community College trustees sat in the front row, and their silence on Granderson's speech would be short-lived.

At the close of GRCC's February board meeting, Trustee Ryskamp, who attended the lecture with Richard Stewart, stated before the board that, "perhaps (we should invite) a speaker who has tried being gay, but now regrets that path or is trying to walk a new path." Trustee Stewart fell in line with an affirmative. Caught off guard, the other trustees sat stunned in silence. Since these were closing remarks, no procedural action was warranted.

Thankfully, GRCC has a student newspaper. The Collegiate picked up on the story when all others, including myself, sat back waiting to see how the other trustees would handle this matter.  

Granderson was one of the first to respond via The Collegiate, saying he regretted that a board member of a public institution is "so clumsy talking about sexual orientation that he describes (being gay) as if you're trying on a sweater."

Grand Rapids has grown accustomed to these outbursts from Ryskamp and Stewart. Over the years, both men have attacked the college's green energy efforts, the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center, and Actors' Theatre of Grand Rapids' work-study partnership.

In March, students and community members stepped forward at the trustee board meeting to voice their concerns. Some students demanded an apology from Trustee Ryskamp. (It never arrived.) Fellow Trustee Terri Handlin broke her silence at the March meeting, offering remorse that she did not speak up sooner to defend the lecture series and its vitality in our community.

But during this same meeting, Trustee Stewart inserted another jab at the lecture series.

"If we are, as an institution, a place where critical thinking is valuable… we need to hear all sides of all breadth of discussion," Stewart said, according to the The Collegiate. "And now, frankly, I'm a bit surprised -- that resistance of hearing all sides of discussion."

And this is where I may get into a bit of trouble… but only for a second.

I part ways with Stewart and Ryskamp when these degreed individuals argue for fairness on this topic, because what I hear in their carefully worded replies is something many LGBT have picked up over time from words like these. Call it "gaydar" or a heightensense of trepidation, but I am just hoping we are not starting a reckless trip down the dark side of our history.
 
In my experience, when someone wants a speaker to address the time they “tried homosexuality" and then denounced it, this calls to my mind the heinous procedures known as transformational therapy. This is a dangerous practice to trumpet when you consider the premise it is often based on refutes the science presented by American Psychiatric Association in 1973. At that time, they agreed as a body of scientists that after decades of study reaching back as far the early 1900s, the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder must stop.
 
But we know it has continued in extreme groups who have opposed the years of science. I have to wonder how any of us would feel if on our next visit to the doctor’s office, he or she pulled out an outdated or debunked medical book?
 
Prior to 1973, transformational therapy treatments often included practices that mirrored torture. Nausea-inducing drugs were fed to gay patients with the expectation that the nausea would be identified with sexually explicit images of men that were projected on a screen. Gay men endured estrogen treatments in the hopes of reducing their libido. Gay men were even hooked up to devices similar to jumper cables so that any part of the male anatomy could be shocked as part of this electroconvulsive therapy.
 
It is no surprise that as a civilized, educated society with advances in body sciences, both medical and academic, we moved beyond these barbaric methods. Please hear me: I am not reporting that these trustees are looking to bring back such practices or even support them, but I do think they need to disclose to the public as well to the students of GRCC what exactly they meant.
 
It should be noted that when the Diversity Speaker Series proposes a speaker, they are very clear as to the scope of that speaker’s credentials, as well as their academic worth when published. Since these Trustees have now proposed from the board room a speaker for the series -- again, something many of us see as outside their role --  they should tell us exactly what they mean.
 
I believe that what is at work here is not about gay people (our modern day red herring), but probably about election votes. For if two trustees are willing to use their position at a public institution to invent such a cultural war that does not really exist in our city – a place where people of all walks of life have expressed a willingness to increase our social equity – then this is probably the most troubling of all the scenarios.
 
One community member at the March meeting addressed Ryskamp and Stewart's record of often voting in the negative for diversity programs -- programs that truly seek to elevate our community by welcoming minority voices to the table.
 
"You seem to want diversity, but only if it's underfunded and within conservative parameters," says street poet and community organizer Azizi Jasper, who has vowed to return again next month to press for the respect he believes was not given to a group of people in our community. It is worth noting that Jasper is not gay, but has shown through his work in the community and his art a finely tuned respect for people -- something members of society should take note.
 
G-Sync has already illustrated that economic prosperity has been linked to diversity and the urgent need to create even create equity in our region. I'm hoping that all GRCC trustees, along with my community, will agree that in the arena of science and in the interest of our health, none of us would want to be “treated” by science that had been proven to be ineffective and more harmful than good.
 
And yes, I have broken my promise to myself to stand back. In this case, I am reminded silence is not golden for our community. May peaceful and equitable dialogue prevail here in West Michigan.
 
The Future Needs All of Us.


Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor


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