Saturday, 25 July 2009

Singapore academic Dr Thio Li-ann compares anal sex to "shoving a straw up your nose to drink".

She has a record as a fierce anti-gay rights campaigner in her country. After students and teachers at New York University, where she had been scheduled to teach human rights law this year, petitioned to have a “town-hall style“ meeting to discuss her appointment, she withdrew her involvement in the curriculum.

Enrolments in her courses were so low that, on top of the petition, Thio “pulled out” before consummating the relationship (the National University of Singapore has an exchange programme with NYU).

Agence France Presse reports:

Singapore's Straits Times said NYU students were outraged after learning that Thio had said in a parliamentary debate in 2007 that repealing a colonial-era law making sex between men a criminal offence "would subvert social morality, the common good and undermine our liberties."

More than 800 members of the NYU community signed a petition against Thio after gay rights activists circulated copies of her speech, it said.

NYU OUTLaw posted on its blog to make its position clear before the semester started, as it felt that the story had developed sufficient momentum that the administration should be starting to have concerns for the viability of Thio’s appointment.

Other GLBT websites picked up on the story and made their feelings known by selective quotation.

To explain how someone who's so against institutional oppression and human suffering could also be against extending rights to gays and lesbians, you'll have to understand Li-ann's position: "A moral wrong cannot be a human right."

She must be feeling slightly sheepish now, I would imagine, and was not available for comment when AFP tried to contact her. NYU OUTLaw never got a chance to face off with Thio, despite trying:

We still have questions for the administration, as we are sure many of you share, and the answers to which have implications for the entire NYU Law community: Were Dr. Thio's statements known to those responsible for the decision to hire her? How virulent must homophobic remarks be to disqualify a scholar from employment at NYU Law? Would the administration similarly hire a scholar who, in her capacity as a legislator, advocated for the imprisonment of those who engage in certain religious or cultural practices?

Accordingly, we have asked Dean Revesz to hold a town-hall style meeting, so that more voices can join the discussion and, hopefully, some of the important questions can get answered. Even though we realize it is difficult to schedule a meeting in the summer, we believe this matter is sufficiently pressing (it is getting national and international press coverage) that the discussion needs to happen as soon as possible, before the semester starts.

But for that, we need more support. First, we are asking groups, students, journals, alumni, faculty, staff, etc. to write Dean Revesz (, urging him to hold such a meeting. Second, if such a meeting is to be successful by any standard, we need all those concerned to attend, to ensure the representativeness of the public.

In an email with Inside higher Ed. magazine, Thio condemned the students’ actions as “imperialist”.

"I think certain Americans have to realize the fact that there are a diversity of views on the subject and it is not a settled matter; there is no universal norm and it is nothing short of moral imperialism to suggest there is,” Thio wrote. “Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no consensus on this even within the U.S. Supreme Court and American society at large, even post Lawrence v. Texas."

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