Six student panelists and one student moderator from the class of 15 convened March 8 to discuss their individual research and class experience. Panel moderator and religion major Marie Olson '07 describes the group as "all religion majors gathering to study and to listen to one another and engage in conversation about a topic that comes to the spotlight in secular and religious realms."
The panel was the second event in the series "New Thinking about Sex and Love in Religion and Society: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Religious Studies on the Rights and Dignity of Gay People," jointly organized by Associate Professor of Religion David Booth and Associate Professor of Sociology Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb. Both taught first- semester courses focusing on the lives of gay people which tried to determine why the resulting national dialogue was, according to Booth, "so weird."
Panelist Anne Hillman '07 characterized her class members as appreciative of divergent opinions. "The class atmosphere was really very open," Hillman said. "It had to be since we were discussing something as personal as sexuality and sex. We very quickly got past any embarrassment about the subject and just learned to be honest and clear about what we were discussing. The class was also very respectful of everyones opinion and positions. We had a good range of conservative and liberal students, hetero- and homosexual as well."
Olson had a similar view of the class. "We were there to listen and open our minds. We really tried to refine our understandings of sexualities and the construction of sexualities," Olson said.
Students on the panel had prepared individual research projects last semester, focusing on a bevy of subjects such as the need for the Church to integrate a trans perspective and the role of Genesis 1-3 in critiquing or condoning same-sex relationships.
Hillman authored "The Relationship between Sexism and Heterosexism," which expanded on heterosexism as a pervasive societal viewpoint a theme heavily discussed by the class.
According to Hillman, heterosexism is "privileging one type of sexual orientation over another, in this case heterosexuality over homosexuality." Both in class and at the panel, she said that the topic received much attention. "We recognized how so much of our society is structured around heterosexuality," she said. "We look for a gene that causes homosexuality, expecting to find a mutation or something like that. We dont look for a gene that causes heterosexuality. That is framing the issue heterosexistly."
The panel and the homosexuality course also discussed "clobber" texts, four Bible passages generally interpreted as prohibiting same-sex desire. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is included in this group. Early Biblical scholars cited greed, inhospitality and disdain for the poor as the sins responsible for punishment, but in the 11th century same-sex sexual acts became the primary infraction and the interpretation has remained.
"Almost all students ended the class with the conviction that there arent good grounds on which to oppose gay rights," Booth said. Panelist Elsa Marty '07 echoed this sentiment and reflected on her transformation throughout the class. "The most important conclusion is that sexuality is an important aspect of human life and spirituality," she said. "I now have a broader definition of sexuality."