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Dr. Li-ann Thio: An Update

Thio Li Ann Visiting Professor NYU Law School.jpgTime for a quick follow-up on Monday’s post about NYU Law School’s controversial decision to invite Dr. Li-ann Thio, an outspoken proponent of criminalizing gay sex, to teach a course on human rights in the fall. The post generated almost 300 comments, many of them quite thoughtful — like this one:

I am a gay man living in Singapore. I have lived in Asia (including Singapore) for over 15 years. So, I have firsthand knowledge of the discriminatory environment for gay men and lesbians living in Singapore.

I am not sure what the administrators of NYU Law School were thinking when they hired Dr. Thio to teach “human rights” in Asia. Asking a Singaporean tenured at a Singapore government-funded university to teach about human rights in Asia is like asking a Ku Klux Klan grandmaster to teach about racial equality. She will simply be a mouthpiece for the Singapore government’s positions on human rights issues. If Dr. Thio espoused views opposed to the Singapore government’s – trust me – she would not be teaching at the National University of Singapore. As everyone in the international human rights community knows, the Singapore government is not a “model” example for upholding human rights.

So Dr. Thio may not have been the best person in the galaxy to pick as a visiting professor of human rights. On the other hand, her views — definitely unorthodox in the American legal academy — could generate healthy and informative debate (like what we saw in our comments).
In our reader poll, which attracted over 3,000 votes, over 55 percent of you supported NYU’s decision to host Dr. Li-ann Thio. Not surprisingly, given the freewheeling, irreverent comments on this site, ATL readers are pro-free speech.
And so is the NYU OUTLaw Board, to its credit. In the wake of our coverage, the board issued a statement criticizing Li-ann Thio’s views, but simultaneously observing that it is “best to fight Dr. Thio’s offensive views not by silencing her but by engaging in a respectful and productive dialogue about the boundaries of human rights.”
The full OUTLaw statement — plus an adult-themed reader poll, by popular request — after the jump.

This fall, NYU School of Law will offer a course “Human Rights in Asia,” to be
taught by the visiting professor from the National University of Singapore Dr. Thio
Li-ann. A distinguished academic whose work focuses on human rights and
international law, Dr. Thio has been a fierce defender of minority rights. Yet, in
her role as a Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore, Dr. Thio has
proven to be a formidable foe to gay rights. She vigorously fought against the
repeal of a law that allows punishing sex between consenting adults with two
years’ imprisonment. During a debate over the repeal of a law criminalizing gay
sex, Dr. Thio asserted that the LGBT community’s long term goals included
gaining the right to sleep with 13 year olds, and that homosexuality was a mental
disorder whose true origins were masked by the pseudoscience of the left.
Moreover, she urged for the law to remain on the books even though it was not
enforced because “a non pro-active policy does not mean 377A will never be
enforced – who knows what another season may require?”
The NYU OUTLaw Board believes such intolerant, reprehensible words raise
serious questions about Dr. Thio’s fitness to teach a course on human rights.
Further, many of our members, allies in the student body, and alumni are
outraged that NYU School of Law — a longtime supporter of LGBT issues — is
supporting someone who would jail many of our students simply because of who
they are. Therefore, we ask NYU School of Law to make a public statement
condemning her remarks made in the Singapore Parliament, reassert its
commitment to diversity, and assure that the concerns of LGBT students be
considered in future hirings.
Nonetheless, the Board thinks it best to fight Dr. Thio’s offensive views not by
silencing her but by engaging in a respectful and productive dialogue about the
boundaries of human rights. This fall, we plan to hold events to explore issues of
academic freedom, LGBT rights, and human rights in Asia, and we look forward
to Dr. Thio’s participation in the discussion. We very much appreciate the
comments from students, alumni, and other concerned parties, and we expect
the passion and interest to continue as we plan our events for next year.
President Obama recently invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to affirm his belief
that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” From the
cornfields of Iowa to the street markets of India, history is moving towards
equality for the LGBT community. We are confident that tolerance and diversity
will triumph over hatred and bigotry.
The NYU OUTLaw Board
Earlier: NYU Professor of Human Rights: Not a Fan of Gay Rights?

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