The College of DuPage is in the midst of a firestorm of controversy generated by an anti-gay opinion letter in its campus newspaper, the Courier.
According to the faculty advisor for the paper, Cathy Stablein, Wayne Lela from H.O.M.E. ( the Downers Grove-based Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center an anti-gay hate group in the state of Illinois ) has submitted anti-gay letters to the editor for years. The paper has printed a number of them, including one in its Oct. 29 issue entitled "Homosexuality isn't a human right." In that letter, Lela, under the guise of responding to the Courier's previous week's point/counterpoint article on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," compares gay and lesbian relationships to incest.
This is not the only way that Lela has tried to influence students on the school's campus. He has also gotten permission from the Student Life department to distribute flyers at an information table with the titles "The Uncensored Truth about Homosexuality"; "'Gay' Activism and Freedom of Speech"; and "Religion and 'Gay' Pride: A Contradiction?" Stablein said that other outside groups have been allowed to distribute information on campus. She also said that Lela's influence has been diminishing each year he has had his presence on the campus. So the question remains: Why has he been able to have continued access to the students at COD?
In its staff editorial in the Nov. 5 issue, the Courier said, "If we did not publish the letter, we would be denying his rights as a community member as well as the rights of all community members who may share H.O.M.E's viewpoint." The editorial went on to say that "the decision to print the letter wasn't about ethics; it was about constitutional rights. It's about the free speech of a minority group." They also said that "by denying anyoneincluding a hate groupthe same basic right, the Courier would have infringed on the rights of all citizens in the community, including LGBT's." At the end of the staff editorial they go on to say "Mr. Lela's letter does not reflect the opinion of the Courier, College of DuPage or any other college group. Mr. Lela has written letters to the Courier for the past five years. Each time, his letter was met with a community response."
Lela's letter prompted many people, from students to faculty members to community members, to respond. Three of these letters were published in the print edition, along with at least 15 additional letters that are available on the publication's website ( http:// www.cod.edu/courier ) . All of the letters spoke out against Lela and asked why the Courier would publish such a letter. Vikaas Shanker, the Courier's editor-in-chief, told Windy City Times that the Courier knew Lela's group was classified as a hate group but said the publication does not "have a right to censor him or others from the Courier public forum, however extreme or mild their opinions may be." Shanker also said that the Courier has printed pro-LGBT pieces, including one that he wrote entitled "Gay romances aren't so odd after all" and that the paper has "promoted LGBT rights, views and lifestyles on campus" over the years. ( Incidentally, attempts to reach the Student Life offices were unsuccessful. )
Lela responded to e-mail queries from Windy City Times, but did not answer several questions, including "What is your motivation in targeting young people in this way?" Lela only countered these questions with the following response: "Homosexuals are targeting even younger people than college students via the different media. They are filling the heads of young people with ideas that can't be intellectually defended, misleading young people into falsely believing an immoral lifestyle is perfectly okay, and setting these misled young people up for a fall ( e.g., mental depression ) when they find out their pro-homosexual arguments just don't make any sense. " Read more story below....
He added, "The suicide rate for young people might actually be lower if people weren't filling their heads with so much unfounded pro-homosexual propaganda and were instead telling them the truth in a caring way. ( The truth being certain behaviors are immoral, whether they have a basis in nature or not. ) " He offered no fact-based information and directed Windy City Times to Google him to find other publications that have printed his writings.
Since the original publication of Lela's letter, a petition was set up through Change.org; "Demand Apology from College of DuPage Newspaper Over Anti-Gay Column" has logged 390 signatures as of Nov. 7. Also, GLAAD ( the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ) has been working with the LGBT group Pride Alliance on campus to schedule a meeting with the board of trustees and the Courier staff to discuss the matter.
GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios weighed in on the situation, e-mailing Windy City Times, "The Courier made the editorial decision to publish a letter full of factual inaccuracies and messages that only serve to promote a climate of intolerance and hate. Media outlets should be held accountable for such choices and for serving as a platform for spreading anti-gay lies. It is also important to let the students and community members who were attacked by this letter know that these 'opinions' were nothing more than false and defamatory information from a known hate group."