An Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter has been barred from a Michigan college campus discussion on sexuality because he is an advocate for gay rights. Students at Hope College, a private liberal arts school historically associated with the Reformed Church in America, had proposed inviting Dustin Lance Black to a college roundtable discussion on sexuality.
An Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter has been barred from a Michigan college campus discussion on sexuality because he is an advocate for gay rights.
Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar in February for his screenplay for the 2008 film “Milk,” is in West Michigan to direct “What’s Wrong With Virginia.”
Students at Hope College, a private liberal arts school historically associated with the Reformed Church in America, had proposed inviting Black to a college roundtable discussion on sexuality. The English department had also invited Black to speak to a screenwriting class.
College officials put a halt to the roundtable, saying that Black would be too divisive. Hope College Dean of Students Richard Frost said that from past experience, strongly opinionated speakers usually don’t further academic discussions about gay, lesbian or transgender issues.
“We had tried to do that in the late ’90s, with little success,” Frost said. “Students and faculty on either side of the campus felt extremely hurt and marginalized.
“We are willing to do these things, but for the college to do this, we have to be sure it’s educational,” he said. “It’s back-and-forth and educational. It’s not advocacy.”
Black’s Oscar-winning screenplay, “Milk,” was a docudrama on the life of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay men to be elected to a public office.
Black said he was surprised to learn a possible speaking engagement at Hope College was causing a stir.
“I think the only controversy I knew of is I haven’t given them a date yet,” he said.
Hope College English Department Chairman David Klooster said that the department is looking at a date in mid- to late November for the speech to the screenwriting class.
“One of our English majors came to me at the beginning of the semester with the idea of inviting Black to talk about screenwriting, and I readily agreed,” Klooster said. “Black won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay last year. He has a decade or more of experience in writing for television and film. It’s unusual to have someone with that experience living in our community, and we’re grateful that he’s willing to come and talk with our students.”
Hope students originally requested a showing of “Milk” along with a panel discussion, which was not approved by the college. Subsequently, several college administrators, faculty and students met to discuss the two separate events — the class visit to discuss screenwriting, and the screening and discussion of the film — and the decision was made to go ahead with the invitation for the class visit.
“It wasn’t a unanimous decision,” Klooster said. “But it was a reasonable discussion, and I was glad that all sides had a chance to state their positions.”
The issue of academic freedom and homosexuality came to a head at nearby Calvin College this month after professors voted 36 to 4 to ask the Calvin board of trustees to withdraw a memo directing professors not to advocate for homosexual issues and same-sex marriage. The faculty senate protested the memo’s limitations on academic freedom.
Black — who was raised as a Mormon — said that before filming began for “What’s Wrong with Virginia,” he did a fair amount of speaking at colleges and focuses on finding common ground with people who may otherwise not get along.
“When I do live speaking tours, I’m all about reconciliation between the gay community and the religious community,” he said.
Hope College freshman Daisy Hernandez said the students are ready for a conversation on gay rights.
“The very idea that the guy is an intelligent individual and he’s willing to talk about it — that shows we are ready for it,” she said. “We’re lucky to have someone with that much talent here.”
The Holland Sentinel (Holland, Mich.)