[Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter from a group of Louisiana Tech doctoral students and instructors to U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry in response to the latter’s opposition to the LGBT studies minor program offered at UL Lafayette.]
Recently the University of Louisiana at Lafayette announced that they would begin offering a minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender studies. Unfortunately, what should be an occasion to celebrate the increasing inclusiveness in academics has been marred by the comments of Louisiana Congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia. Congressman Landry believes the minor should be removed because “it fails to provide an economic benefit to the participants or financial sense for the taxpayer,” and further “Budgetary shortfalls have left higher education severely underfunded. As such, we must effectively allocate these scare [sic] resources and give priority to those course [sic] and minors that provide demonstrable employment benefits.”
We find his statement unsupported by the evidence. Even more troubling, it sends a message of intolerance to the community.
Despite Congressmen Landry’s assertion, there are economic benefits to having an LGBT minor. First, as noted by ULL President Savoie, “The development of this new minor did not require budgetary allocations or divert resources from other areas as it allows students to choose from a list of nearly 100 existing courses across several disciplines.” Therefore, it appears that the LGBT minor will not have a negative impact on state resources. Moreover, it appears that such a minor can help prepare students to work in a business climate that is becoming increasingly open to the LGBT community. For example, marketing research indicates that LGBT tourism within the United States was worth 65 million dollars in 2010. Similar research found that New Orleans was one of the top 10 destinations for LGBT business and tourism, providing millions of dollars of revenue for both the city and the state. Research also indicates that prejudices against this group costs businesses millions of dollars each year in lost revenue and productivity.
Singling out this minor among the numerous available at ULL that focus on minority issues (i.e. African American, Cajun-Creole, and Latin American, etc.) can be interpreted as discriminatory. Congressman Landry speaks for all of the constituents of his district, including the LGBT community, and should be aware of the damaging effects of prejudice and discrimination toward this group.
Research suggests that the social stigma and oppression of this group contributes to higher rates of depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation, among other mental health issues. As a state representative, it is irresponsible to suggest that acquired knowledge in this area is not beneficial. History demonstrates that the driving force of prejudice is naiveté and a lack of exposure to groups different than one’s own. The best defense against this is education. Clearly, an understanding of the different groups that make up and contribute greatly to the state of Louisiana, and to our nation as a whole, has value above and beyond just economics.
We commend ULL for braving the criticism they have faced in order to offer their students the opportunity to be educated about the LGBT community. We hope that other universities in Louisiana follow their lead in realizing the value of learning about this diverse group and begin to offer similar programs.
Jay Middleton Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Deborah P. Simpson, M.A. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Jennifer L. Thibodeaux, M.A. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Rose Niles Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Rebecca Cox, M.S.Ed. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Charmaine Mosier, M.S. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Jackie Ball, M.S. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Lauren Tressler, M.S. Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Laura Harris, SSP, NCSP Louisiana Tech University Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
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