IAP Seminar on Gay Conversion Prompts Angry Student ResponseBy Christina Chu
An Independent Activities Period seminar about converting people from homosexuality last Thursday prompted an angry response from the Institute's gay community.
Senior Office Assistant at the Laboratory for Nuclear Science Peter N. Robicheau offered "An Introduction to Change for the Homosexual and the Ex-Gay Movement." The activity was the only one dealing with gay issues listed in the IAPGuide.
In response, three students sponsored an activity called "Gay to Straight: The Myth of Conversion" the night before Robicheau's talk.
Additionally, students distributed leaflets proclaiming "MITSponsors Hatred" on the day of the talk.
Robicheau, who used to be gay, is the director of the Transformation Ministries of Boston.
Most ex-gay ministries or support groups are backed by religious organizations that encourage individuals to shift from homosexuality to heterosexuality. However, members of the gay community see gay-to-straight conversion as unsuccessful and psychologically destructive.
Robicheau's seminar on the ex-gay movement presented primarily religious views on homosexuality and addressed the methods of conversion therapy.
Throughout the duration of his seminar, Robicheau was repeatedly interrupted with questions, comments, and objections made by the predominantly pro-gay audience.
IAP office sets activity guidelines
"MIT should not sanction an event which has hatred as its primary focus," said Sarah K. Veatch '98, general coordinator of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Friends at MIT.
The leaflet, which was distributed by Adrian Banard '97 and Damon W. Suden '99, charged that "by holding this hate event, MIT lends a veneer of academic respectability to the bigots running it."The event "directly offends and harms many in the queer community here."
"Any activity that is sponsored by a member of the MIT community that fits the general guidelines" is usually accepted for IAP, said Martin Marks, IAP policy committee chair.
In fact, most of the members of the policy committee did not agree with Robicheau's opinion, but to exclude the activity would have been inappropriate, Marks said.
According to the guidelines in the IAP Guide, "Inclusion of a non-credit activity does not imply MIT endorsement. Responsibility for a non-credit activity lies with the sponsoring MIT individual or group."
"If any student wants to propose pro-gay issues, that's okay, but this year there weren't any," Marks said.
"In the past, more positive gay-oriented events have been sponsored by MITdepartments," Veatch said. "GAMIT doesn't feel it has to be the only gay organization to sponsor events."
"It was good to hear different points of view. If anybody had an educational experience, it was Robicheau, because people showed him evidence and made him aware about the current thinking around gay identity, and gay science," Marks said.
Speakers address awareness
"The Myth of Conversion" was put on originally in response to Robicheau's activity, said Daniel Skwarek G, who helped organize the event.
The event focused on a film about the ex-gay ministries, and a panel discussion with J. D. Schramm and Leah Fygetakis of the Boston Gay and Lesbian Speakers Bureau.
"The bottom line is that MIT is hosting homophobia. People don't understand that the basis of the ex-gay ministries is that being gay is wrong," said Chris Pomiecko, administrative assistant for the literature section of the humanities department.
Pomiecko and Asher Davison G also helped organize the event.
"The opportunity for dialogue at the ex-gay IAP event is valuable, and while people may disagree about the strategy, the important thing is the [lesbian, bisexual, and gay] community is aware of the situation and is taking steps," Schramm said.
Beliefs prompted conversion
"We do believe on relying on God for change," Robicheau said in his seminar. He cited other ministries including Exodus and Homosexuals Anonymous.
Robicheau said he felt a need to change his "sexual orientation because of his belief in the Christian religion."
Same-sex sexual relationships were "unhealthy," said Robicheau. That belief may "violate the [Institute's] sexual-harassment policy, but c'est la vie."
Robicheau noted that universities are places for public discussion, and people should be able to talk openly about supporting ex-gay issues. "Change is possible if someone seeks to change," he said. "There are studies and psychologists who say it can be done."
Robicheau's claim was vehemently opposed: "You obviously know nothing about genetics," said one audience member.
"If you're happy being gay that's fine," Robicheau said.
"I don't think Christians hate anyone. I don't hate anyone" said Robicheau.