19 February 2009

Why Do We Need to Save Queer Theory?

Lawmakers in Georgia want to get rid of professors who are doing research on and teaching sexuality and queer theory. CNN has a (misleading) report here or read about it in the Athens Banner-Herald here.*

According to Georgia state representative Calvin Hill, "Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math." Right... we don't need any historians, teachers, social workers, musicians. Henry Ford said it succinctly: "History is bunk." Ford also was a good buddy of Adolf Hitler's.

There are two important issues here. First, the issue of the legitimacy of queer theory and sexuality as topics of research and study. Scholars nationwide, and indeed around the world, have been engaged in queer theory in recent decades.

In just my own field of literary study, it allows for new approaches to texts from the point of view of alternatives to heterosexuality which may include chaste marriage (see Carolyn Dinshaw on the Middle English Life of Margery Kempe), homoeroticism (I'll make a plug for my own article on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), or Beowulf's failure to marry and leave an heir, leaving his people in chaos after his death from dragon-venom.

I could go on. I could swerve over to issues of AIDS, gay marriage, and teenage parenthood, some of the topics addressed in courses on sexuality. But I'm going to stop here because there's a larger and more critical issue of academic freedom. The Georgia representatives want these professors fired because of the subject of their research and teaching.

Faculty need to be able to be free to do research, write, and teach without interference from the state. Full stop.

If, under pressure from Christians, we exempt queer theory from that freedom, what's next?

*If you read all the way to the bottom of the Banner-Herald article, by the way, you'll find an unfortunate comment from Georgia State spokeswoman Andrea Jones:
"Teaching courses in criminal justice, for example, does not mean that our students are being prepared to become criminals. Quite the opposite," said Jones. "Legitimate research and teaching are central to the development of relevant and effective policy."
So... queers are like criminals?