Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), published a letter this month that was rife with anti-gay rhetoric. According to Wayne Helmer, professor of mechanical engineering at Arkansas Tech University, gay people are self-destructive and spiritually bereft and need ex-gay therapy:
We would do well to teach the truth about the homosexual /lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender lifestyle. These dear people caught up in this destructive way of life need true help and true hope and not encouragement or approval of a detrimental, negative lifestyle. They deserve better than that. This is not God’s plan for their lives.
Helmer defended his remarks in a phone interview with Inside Higher Ed, explaining that he wasn’t anti-gay — though he refuses to use the word “gay” — but “these poor people have been hurt so bad that there needs to be a spiritual solution.”
The Association’s president, president-elect, and immediate past president were quick to denounce the publication for publishing the letter, calling it “intolerant and prejudicial and not appropriate for publication in a magazine produced for professionals involved in engineering education.” But Executive Director Norman Fortenberry defended its publication:
FORTENBERRY: While we do not assert the equal validity of all viewpoints, we published the letter because because in our judgment: 1. It represented a sincere response to content published in Prism. 2. The views expressed are probably not unique. 3. While many may find the content objectionable, within its context it was apparently not intended as an ad hominem attack. 4. It offered an opportunity for a discussion among ASEE’s membership about the value of diversity.
The ASEE statement on diversity includes a commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation within the field of engineering, because “ASEE believes that diversity enriches the educational experience and improves the practice of engineering.” Helmer’s letter takes the exact opposite position, arguing that gay people don’t even exist. Criticizing individuals’ personal lives within a professional context only serves to alienate LGBT members of the engineering field, and no disclaimer can justify printing a letter directly contrary to the magazine’s goals.