The first annual Michael Palm Lecture provided the campus with both a $1 million gift, and what some students felt was a polarizing force.
In a day that brought another famous speaker to campus – author and nationally syndicated political columnist Arianna Huffington – Matt Foreman, queer rights pioneer and founder of the New York City Gay Pride Parade, addressed a packed MultiCultural Center Theater audience. While Foreman gave extensive praise to gay rights advocates, some students said he too harshly criticized opponents.
Huffington, who, along with Foreman, was brought to UCSB yesterday by the Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity, was scheduled to speak at a special event in Hatlen Theatre at 8 p.m. Her discussion, titled “It’s the Fearlessness, Stupid!”, focused on the ways in which politicians employ fear to distract citizens from the war in Iraq, which she calls a “disaster.”
The Michael Palm Lecture is named for a recent $1 million donation from the Michael Palm Foundation to UCSB’s Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military. Foreman’s talk centered on issues affecting the queer community as well as UCSB’s potential to improve society’s attitude toward non-heterosexual lifestyles. Political science professor Aaron Belkin, director of the center, delivered the opening speech for the lecture.
Belkin called Foreman a “civil rights hero,” and said the money from the Palm grant will enable the center to broaden its research into wider issues affecting the queer community.
Foreman, current executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, said UCSB could help the queer community by conducting research that might counter what he called negative myths and stereotypes propagated by the political and religious right.
As an example, Foreman discussed his belief that new research would be especially important in light of the recent scandal involving Mark Foley, a U.S. senator who has been accused of sending sexually explicit messages to young pages. He said conservatives responded to the incident by claiming that gays are more susceptible to pedophilia.
Following the scandal, and partially as a result of the conservative response, Foreman said, 23 percent of Americans claimed in a recent survey that they had less confidence in gays and lesbians.
Foreman said the queer community’s fight against entrenched myths and stereotypes depends on proper utilization of research.
“Finding the truth is not enough; it is how it is used,” Foreman said. “We must be proactive, not passive with research.”
However, some students accused Foreman of polarizing the debate over social acceptance for gays and lesbians by referring to the religious and political right as “the other side.” This approach, they said, makes it more difficult for queers to reach a reconciliation with conservative groups.
First-year political science major Igor Hiller said Foreman’s views were too one-sided.
“It is ineffective to be extreme, on either side,” Hiller said.
– Kaitlin Pike and Devon Claire Flannery contributed to this article.