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May 9, 2008

University of Toledo executive is suspended for anti-gay article

Toledo--An anti-gay opinion piece in the Toledo Free Press resulted in the suspension of its author, a University of Toledo associate vice president.

The weekly paper’s editor-in-chief, Michael S. Miller, wrote an April 4 column entitled “Gay Rights and Wrongs,” pointing to his friendships with gay people as an impetus for his open-mindedness and noting the economic benefits of LGBT-affirming laws.

He pointed to the 2006 merger of the Medical University of Ohio into the University of Toledo. UT has domestic partner benefits but the medical school doesn’t, so some employees of the merged institution can cover their partners while others cannot.

Crystal Dixon, the associate vice president for human resources at the University of Toledo, responded with a rebuttal two weeks later. She took umbrage at lesbian and gay equality being framed as a civil rights issue, drawing on the Bible as a source for her arguments and hailing “ex-gay” organizations like Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Exodus International.

“I am genetically and biologically a Black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended,” she wrote. “Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle evidenced by the growing population of PFOX . . . and Exodus International.”

The “ex-gay” groups and their methods have been widely discredited. Most are linked to anti-gay religious-right organizations.

Dixon also argued against LGBT equal rights laws by listing statistics showing that gay men and lesbians have a higher tendency towards college education and medium- to upper-class income levels than African Americans.

Her one undisputed statement noted that the disparities in benefits between the two schools affects employees across the board, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that it will take time to normalize the packages.

The university put Dixon on paid leave after her screed appeared.

“President Lloyd Jacobs has done the right things,” said Michelle Stecker, interim executive director of Equality Toledo and a UT School of Law alumnus.

Stecker sent out an action alert on April 30 urging people to contact the university and ask them to hold Dixon accountable for her op-ed piece, which Stecker described as “outrageous and defamatory.”

“For me, the reason why it’s newsworthy now is that five or ten years ago, no one would have even cared about the homophobic rant,” she said. “Now that we have Equality Toledo, now that we have the political clout to name this rant as something that’s offensive and discriminatory and unacceptable, it’s exciting for us to claim this political power.”

“We had people from as far away as Colorado weighing in on this issue because they thought it was important that we step up and call her on it,” she continued.

Four days after Stecker sent out the alert, the Toledo Free Press printed UT president Jacobs’ response.

“Although I recognize it is common knowledge that Crystal Dixon is associate vice present for human resources at the University of Toledo, her comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo,” Jacobs wrote. “It is necessary, therefore, for me to repudiate much of her writing and to make this attempt to clarify our values system.”

“The University of Toledo welcomes, supports and places value upon persons of every variety,” he continued. “Disability, race, age or sexual orientation are not included in any decision making process nor the evaluation of worth of any individual at this university. To the extent that appearances may exist which are contrary to this value statement, we will continue to do everything in our power to align all of our actions every day with the value system discussed.”

“We will be taking certain internal actions in this instance to more fully align our utterances and actions with this value system,” he noted.

He then concurred with Dixon’s comment that the Medical University of Ohio benefit disparities are being addressed.

Stecker said that Jacobs indicated to her that the university was looking “very seriously” at extending domestic partner benefits to medical school employees.

Stecker opined that Dixon’s statements are beyond the pale of acceptable speech for someone in her leadership position.

“Two of our executive board members are attorneys, including myself, and both of us are card-carrying ACLU members,” she said. “We believe in the Constitution and freedom of speech, but Crystal Dixon’s comments crossed the line.”

“We’re glad that the supporters and members of Equality Toledo stepped up and made their voices heard,” she said.

“I drafted this little action alert, and immediately people responded. They responded from their hearts that this was so unjust,” she continued. “We also heard heart-wrenching stories about people who have been discriminated against or heard anti-gay slurs at the University of Toledo.”

“What I’ve learned is that sometimes it just takes something horrible like this to bring us together and to articulate the discriminatory actions we face every day being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

A spokesman for the University of Toledo did not respond to a call for comment, although earlier statements indicated that they could not speak about an ongoing personnel matter.

Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” organization and an umbrella group for other such ministries and therapists, has seen its share of scandals. Then-chair John Paulk was photographed in a Washington, D.C. gay bar in 2000, while founders Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee left the organization to be in a relationship together.

Other prominent “ex-gay” leaders have also fallen from grace with that movement, and the American Psychological Association warns that “reparative therapy” does not work, and can be very harmful to its subjects’ mental and emotional health. The American Psychiatric Association also rejects the concept.

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