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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Contra Khan: A Response to "Moss Pushes False Narrative...Yet Again"

First off, I’d like to thank Mr. Khan for that little trip down memory lane! Let me state right off the bat that I have no regrets about standing up for the rights of LGBT people and other marginalized groups at Middlebury. I don’t retract a single comment, especially about Rehnquist, who not only sided against equality in every major Supreme Court case on gay rights for over two decades, but in 1986 and again in 2003 – a mere three years before Middlebury named a chair after him – considered that I should be a felon in over 20 states because of who I sleep with. (Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 upheld Georgia’s sodomy law that carried a sentence of 1-20 years in prison for consensual sex between men. Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 found the remaining 14 state sodomy laws unconstitutional and overturned Bowers, but Rehnquist joined the dissent.)  I don’t care what logic he used to justify his decision, it’s still clear to me it was really based on animus. Fortunately, by 2003 a majority of Supreme Court justices was on my side, as in 2006 a majority of voting faculty was on my side, not that of President Liebowitz.

Then, as now, the people making decisions at Middlebury were blindsided. They were as unaware of what some of us knew about Rehnquist as the organizers of the Hamilton Forum were of what some of us knew about Legutko. My suspicions that they were unaware are confirmed in that other pearl-clutching article about my Facebook post, which Khan refers to. But people, it’s Facebook! It’s not as if I’ve gone on the lecture circuit and criticized my Middlebury colleagues at other institutions! Facebook is just not that serious. Furthermore, my feed is private, restricted to friends. That someone took it upon himself to steal my post and share it with, among others, students, whom I never add as friends until they graduate, is a gross violation of my privacy and totally unethical. Imagine if I stole private pictures of someone’s children from social media and shared them with some group they didn’t want to see them!

The post was made in the heat of the moment, and I later tempered it. But I had been looking forward to confronting Legutko with pointed questions and was already upset that I was deprived of that possibility. Now I heard that he was speaking anyway, but I had been shut out. It seemed a bizarre move on the part of those who talk about answering speech with more speech and about questions being the coin of the realm. Someone might have reached out to the one person on campus who seemed aware of what Legutko stood for in Poland and in Europe.

Finally, to the question of my publication record. Perhaps Mr. Khan doesn’t know, but different disciplines have different expectations. Some still insist on books, but others accept serious articles and book chapters, and these expectations are changing with digital publishing as well. I have over two dozen publications since those two books. The latest was the translation of my chapter on Russia for the French edition of a volume on Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe. The chapter title, “Russia as the savior of European civilization: Gender and the geopolitics of traditional values,” could with the substitution of “Poland” for “Russia” easily describe Legutko’s book. Though short, the chapter has some 57 citations, which is 57 more than Legutko’s work. Not to brag, but last year I was even invited to Harvard to give a talk on Russia’s Political Homophobia and Geopolitics. This is what I brought to the attention of my colleagues and students at Middlebury. Now Poland’s turn to political homophobia has been in all the papers.

Mr. Khan did inadvertently point to one real problem. It is likely true that my productivity has taken some hits from my activism on campus. Cis straight white men especially tend to have no idea how much emotional and intellectual energy some people on campus expend to make Middlebury a better place for marginalized students. I can’t even fathom the kind of daily toll this work takes on my colleagues who are faculty and staff of color here. But on the bright side, there is sometimes some progress. My op-ed on IVCF in 2016 (which, by the way, was about excluding a candidate from leadership not because of his stance on marriage, but because he was gay) ended with this: “Perhaps now is finally the time for Middlebury to create an LGBTQ center and hire a director who could both pro-actively make Middlebury a more queer-positive place and be brought in to help respond to any homophobic or transphobic situation that might arise in the future.” I note with pleasure that the college is now advertising for a full-time assistant director for the Anderson Freeman Center to support LGBTQ+ students and beginning discussions of what just such a center might look like.

Kevin Moss is Jean Thomson Fulton Professor of Modern Language & Literature at Middlebury College.