A couple of weeks ago, AU associate professor Bruce Murray was called out for publicly expressing homophobic views. Since then, Murray has publicly defended his views with appeals to science, nature and ethics.
In other words, he has tried to justify homophobia with scholarship.
Here’s the thing — his scholarship is poor.
Murray asserts that members of the LGBTQIA community are breaking the laws of biology. Biology is governed by physics, chemistry, chance and history — laws that can’t be broken by anyone.
What does science tell us about gender? Scientists start with what they can see. Wherever we look, we find a significant minority of people who identify as something other than cisgendered men and women. Scientists then test causal explanations.
For example, researchers have found that up to one quarter of the variance in sexual orientation — which is just one facet of gender — can be explained by genetics. The upshot is that many of us are born LGBTQIA. Murray’s appeals to science are not based on observation or tests of causation; they’re hooey.
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Murray sees non-binary gender as an affront to nature and to natural institutions such as heterosexual marriage. But what is this nature he’s talking about, and is it inherently good?
Jogging is natural, but so is heart disease. Our ancestors slept on the ground. Is it wrong to sleep on a mattress?
Murray’s natural-equals-good equation smacks of romantic primitivism — the belief that people are innately good unless they’ve been corrupted by modernity.
This is the myth of the noble savage.
It’s a myth.
Its take on human nature and history is incongruous with decades of research by anthropologists, psychologists, geneticists and neural biologists. Murray’s appeals to nature are just thinly veiled appeals to his own bias.
Freedom of expression is just one of many freedoms we value in our society. Sometimes one freedom takes away from another.
In particular, liberty and equality are often antithetical. Someone’s free speech can deprive someone else of equal access to education and economic opportunity. Striking the right balance between liberty and equality is one of the great challenges in building a just society.
Philosopher John Rawls sees it as an optimization problem in which the goal is to dole out liberty as equally as possible, and promote inequality when it is to the advantage of the least advantaged.
There is no balancing in Murray’s appeals to ethics; he asserts his liberty to deny LGBTQIA equality.
Murray’s homophobic speech is quantifiably harmful to the LGBTQIA community in that LGBTQIA students are more likely to be bullied in school.
Is that worth less than Murray’s liberty to publicly pass off his prejudice as scholarship?
Excusing Murray’s hate speech as free speech only affirms that we value LGBTQIA students less than we value straight white men.
Nate Hardy is an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.
The opinions expressed in columns and letters represent the views and opinions of their individual authors.
These opinions do not necessarily reflect the Auburn University student body, faculty, administration or Board of Trustees.
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