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Posted on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Some U-M Law School students don't want Rob Portman as graduation speaker, call him anti-gay

By Cindy Heflin

While undergraduate students at the University of Michigan are protesting the choice of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as commencement speaker, some students at the U-M Law School are unhappy about the man chosen to give their graduation speech as well.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, chosen to speak at the Law School's Senior Day on May 7, has a record of voting for anti-gay legislation, critics say.


Rob Portman

Plain Dealer photo

Law School Dean Evan Caminker is aware of the criticism and met with students to hear their concerns, said U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. But Portman is "a distinguished graduate of the University of Michigan Law School with a long record of public service," Fitzgerald said.

He noted the law school has invited many graduates now in public service to speak. "The university believes they have good things to talk about to our graduates," Fitzgerald said.

He also said that while "his voting record is his voting record," Portman is not someone who frequently speaks out on gay issues. Portman is a 1984 graduate of the Law School.

An e-mail to Caminker protesting the choice of Portman was signed by 98 members of the graduating class, Fitzgerald said. Another e-mail from about 200 students also expressed unhappiness with the choice, Fitzgerald said.

This week, the organization Equality Michigan weighed in on the issue, issuing a press release citing the students' opposition and saying it agreed "Portman is a poor choice."

An e-mail from the organization included a statement by Denise Brogan-Kator, who is interim executive director of Equality Michigan and a 2006 University of Michigan Law School graduate.

"As a U-M law school alumna and a public advocate for gay and transgender Michiganders, I am very concerned with Senator Portman's selection as commencement speaker and the message that it sends," Brogan-Kator wrote. "Choosing a speaker who actively works to deny opportunity and equality for some graduates profoundly mars this ceremony and reflects poorly on our state."

Portman's office did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday, but spokesman Jeff Sadosky told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week: "Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman."

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from southwest Ohio before joining the Bush administration, Portman voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, the Plain Dealer reported. He also voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, giving states the right to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Portman also voted in 1999 to bar same-sex couples in Washington, D.C. from adopting children, the Plain Dealer said. That amendment narrowly failed.


Macabre Sunset

Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 7:56 a.m.

Last year, the law school invited a speaker who has been involved in some shady real estate deals. A definite partisan, as well, in favor of many discriminatory programs. But she's a Democrat, so no one seemed to care. Life in the ivory tower goes on.


Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

Good point, and, although not the law school, I don't recall a single protest regarding Al Taubman's millions in donations or name going on UM buildings and centers. But, he certainly was convicted of fraud and illegal activities. Money wipes away a multitude of sins. Given those being protested are typically UM graduates, they spent their money here, too. Are they less entitled to hold contrary views to the protesters? Will all potential bigots be ferreted out prior to commencement and denied graduation honors?

Sandra Samons

Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 4:37 a.m.

Although I am not a graduate of the U of M Law School, I am a U of M graduate. I am proud of my school but I am not blind to its flaws. I believe that part of a broad education is to be exposed to a variety of points of view. If the University is doing its job, this is happening for every student during their years at Michigan. Because of this, graduates can be found who represent a wide variety of perspectives and beliefs. By the time commencement rolls around, it should no longer be necessary to continue this effort. The University is supposed to stand for something, to lead. The bylaws of the University prohibit discrimination based on a variety of factors including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. If this is not simply lip service, commencement speakers should be chosen who reflect those standards. The students and quite right to protest. How can they be expected to respect their school leaders if those leaders aren't willing to practice what they preach?

Mike D.

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

The school has the right to pick any speaker it wants, and the students have the right to be unhappy if that speaker happens to be a bigot. The students are doing the right thing by protesting, and the school should (but is not obliged to) choose someone who hasn't overtly voted to exclude classes of people from certain rights. To those who say this wouldn't be an issue if the speaker were a liberal, I say show me a liberal who backs legislation that takes basic human rights away from people. As some have noted, the students have the option to stay home and withhold their support from the school. Putting myself in their shoes, it would be hard to deny my family the joyous occasion of seeing me graduate, but I'd do it, and in the long run, I'd never regret it. A nice dinner would be a good alternative celebration!


Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 2:09 a.m.

When you say "the school has the right to pick any speaker it wants," who in the school has that right? I'd say the people who are paying their own money to attend the school. We're not talking about free public education here. We're talking about paying perhaps $50,000.00 a year just in tuition. Seems to me that some rights go along with that.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 9:34 p.m.

It sounds like the tail is trying to wag the dog. If the graduates don't like Portman let them stay home!


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

After all the money these students have dumped into their "education," you're damned right they should have a say as to who addresses them at their commencement. But I repeat: stay away from the ceremony and throw away all future law schools solicitations for donations.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

I guess Portman's diversity isn't on the approved list. Oh, well.

Mr. Tibbs

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

anti gay. the gay mafia up-ends again. tell ya what explain to me what the meaning of being able to serve in the military "openly" pun intended, and explain what the difference would actually be. military code of conduct stipulates very little if any open affection even between male and female. so what is it between the rest of the straight world and the gay world that you want? Nobody is telling you, you can't "be" who you are. but there are limits for everyone. it just seems that for a few, the limits are "off limits" and before you attack freedom of opinion, remember you have an opinion of your own you would like heard. only the self-destructive would want to stifle debate. but then again, having an education never did garantee intelligence.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

News for Snehal: Gays aren't anti-hetero. Gays are anti-anti-gay people. Did we run out of heterosexuals to speak who aren't anti-gay?


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 4:36 p.m.

Maybe they could get Barny the purple dino, I don't think hes offended anyone.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

Anyone with an "R" next to their name will get protested around here. As soon as people see the "r", they will dig in for the smallest detail and stretch it as far as they can to make it seem extreme.. Funny, Obama doesn't support gay marriage. How come that wasn't protested when he came to Ann Arbor last year.. O, thats right, He's a democrat. Take off the blinders people. I'll be there Saturday morning as well. With my Pro Snyder rally gear. Someone has to speak up for the quiet majority.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

And I assume these same people will ask some students from not coming to graduation because they may be anti-gay!


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:56 p.m.

Graduation speakers should be inspirational and challenging. It is unfair to invite such controversial speakers who espouse reactionary views. This should be a celebration for the graduates, they should not have their day ruined by the presence of a bigot.

David Briegel

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

It seems to me that the Admin continuously wishes to give credibility to speakers who believe that some citizens aren't worthy of the rights outlined in that Constitution they supposedy carry in their pockets. I agree with bedrog that a speaker should be allowed to point out the bigotry in such a position!


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

Hey Moscow, how is your advice any different than telling a bunch of black students the same thing in, say, 1964 when a distinguished lawyer with a history of anti-black voting was chosen to speak? Suck it up, you spoiled brats! think about it. A lawyer letting his personal bias affect what should be objective views in regard to the law. THAT is what makes the choice of Portman such a bad one in my eyes.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

This isn't the same thing as opposing a random speaker on campus. This is the speaker who's been chosen for their commencement, who is being endorsed by the Law School, and who's supposedly there to impart words of wisdom to them before they graduate. I think they do have a right to a voice in who gets to speak at their commencement. It's their commencement after all; they worked very hard to get there.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

jacob bodner is correct about would-be lawyers needing to listen to rebuttal/refutative testimony... so lets's continue the analogy: i.e. have a rebuttal speaker to portman


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

That sounds fair. But he/she can only rebut what Portman has said at the ceremony.

Terry Calhoun

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

In 2011, "Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman," sounds an awful lot like 1967's ... "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Jacob Bodnar

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

I just love this. Law students complaining about having to listen to someone they disagree with. Their entire career will based on listening to someone refute them, and then having to persuade people that the other guy is wrong. If they can't sit and listen to a man they disagree with speak for 30 minutes (and he probably won't even touch on the topics they differ on) then they're going to have a rather painful career.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

First of all, the spokesman for U of M is incorrect, at least to my knowledge. Dean Caminker has been unavailable to meet with students so far, but there is a public meeting scheduled soon, during exams of course. Second, this is not an issue of silencing an unpopular viewpoint because Portman was not invited to express his views on any particular topic. Instead, he was invited to give a commencement speech at a graduation ceremony intended to honor the graduating students and all of their hard work these past three years. His presence alone though makes some members of the law school community uncomfortable, as he has endorsed the hateful viewpoint that members of the LGBT community are somehow less deserving than straight people to enjoy the "sacred bond" of marriage. It is not the same as inviting a KKK member or another openly bigoted person to speak; it is worse than that. This type of hate is hidden and insidious. Why should some students have to walk out of the ceremony in order to show their protest, or even skip the ceremony altogether? This is just an example of the school administration making a poor choice in speaker and then not having the guts to admit it.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

@Christopher LeClair and others who think the students rule the roost why are all the protests of speakers at the U-M by conservative or republican students? Name of left-wing speaker that was discouraged to speak by such a large portion of the students? Of course, media like .com blow these "protests" out of proportion but did students totally freak out when Obama spoke last year or Clinton years ago or even Hillary? Of course not, so please, the guise of "students" have a say is garbage ... You don't want anyone you don't agree with - and everyone knows it --- but somehow conservative students bite their tongues and you cant!...


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

An appropriate response: don't attend the graduation ceremony. I speak from experience. I graduated from U of M Law School in 1975 and, for reasons having nothing to do with the speaker, I did not attend the graduation ceremony. I received my degree, passed bar examinations in two different states, and went on to a 30 year career practicing law. In this case, a half empty auditorium (or other forum) would send a message loudly and clearly. Another way to send a message: when the law school comes calling for money (and, trust me, they will --- year after year), place the request in the circular file for recycling. Trust me, that will send a message.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

"Brogan-Kator wrote. "Choosing a speaker who actively works to deny opportunity and equality for some graduates profoundly mars this ceremony and reflects poorly on our state."" I think it's fair to say that denying a person the right to speak is actively working to deny opportunities for the speaker as well as for those who choose to listen. The opportunities quickly disappear if one is considered anti-gay or even disinterested in the gay community (disinterest equals gay bashing in LGBT terms). In Ann Arbor, it's obvious how limited the opportunities become. The woman scorned is but a trifle compared to a scorned LGBT member.

Tom Wieder

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

This is not a freedom of speech issue. Portman has a right to voice his views, whatever they are. He doesn't have a right to voice them at a particular school's graduation ceremony. Being a commencement speaker is an honor and a privilege extended by the school, and the students are an essential part of the school. The ceremony is in their honor. If some of them find the chosen speaker undesireable for any reason, whether it's perceived bigotry or just that the speaker is "boring," it's certainly appropriate for them to voice their opinions.

Christopher LeClair

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:43 p.m.

For the life of me I cannot figure out why members of the community are so hateful towards students who would like a say in their commencement speaker. While Mr. Huron is correct in nothing that no paper was signed stating the the tens of thousands of dollars would equal a say in the commencement speaker, I think any reasonable person would admit that the tens of thousands of dollars, plus three grueling years of work, would at least allow for one to voice their opinion over the speaker. In the "real world" people are allowed to voice their opinions, including the students who do not wish to have a seemingly anti-gay speaker at THEIR commencement ceremony. It is not like they are going to come out victorious in the matter, but there is no need to seem so hateful when they are simply voicing their opinion. It's a bit odd when people are bashing them for not wanting to hear someones "opinion"

Mike D.

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 10:15 p.m.

Well put. Some people either have nothing better to do than complain or take any opportunity to gay bash. I think it's the former here.

Christopher LeClair

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:10 p.m.

*Nothing* = noting *the the* = that the I guess a college education never instilled in me the need to proofread

Ben Connor Barrie

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

Portman has worked actively to prevent gay couples marrying and from adopting. Umich Law has a long history of being on the cutting edge in terms of tolerance: they graduated the first black law student and admitted the second female student in the country. This is not so much an issue of free speech, Portman is welcome to his political ideas. It is not a question of whether controversial speakers should be allowed at the Law School. The reason so many Umich Law students are upset is that Portman has been asked to speak at their graduation. His political views are that many people in the graduating class (and their friends) are lesser citizens than heterosexuals. Would it have been appropriate to invite George Wallace to speak at a graduation in the 1960's? I found this article by a Umich law student informative: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Mike D.

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 10:14 p.m.

Can you define &quot;pro-gay?&quot; Does that mean someone who thinks a gay person is a human?


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3 p.m.

again, pro-gay students are trying to use their numbers to suppress speech they disagree with.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

So, here is the question for all those principled folks who in their studies at U of M Law School believe that equality in the law mean that gay folks should be allowed to marry - what are you really going to do? As I see it, this is a big government guy wants to dictate things that are not in our Constitution. He does not want our citizens treated equally. He insists in tiers of citizenship. His other policies are terrible as well. He doesn't want to spend money but demands a seat in our bedrooms and dictates to churches who can marry. So, what are you going to do? This is a guy who gets our constitution wrong...that is the debate I'd like to see come from this law school.

Moscow On The Huron

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

I'm seeing a trend here. Students are apparently under the impression that they can have free speech for themselves while never having a diverse opinion reach their precious little ears. Here's the reality for all you spoiled brats: You're graduating. Grow up. It's time to live in the real world now. For the first time in your lives you will hear things that you disagree with, and that's the way the adult world works. Learn how to get along with people who have differing opinions. Oh, and by the way... grown adults don't play beer pong.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

@Johnny. Why is his opinion wrong and yours is not? You may disagree with the Senator but that does not make him wrong. Besides if you want to get technical, gay is wrong solely based off the fact it takes male and female to reproduce. Therefor gay is against our natural born identity. If you want others to accept different lifestyles and ideals than you need to do the same. A bigot is a bigot is a bigot.

Moscow On The Huron

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

Oh, and by the way... &quot;I do not have to listen to people who are idiots speak.&quot; Actually, some times, you do. You will some day, as we all do at some point, have an idiot for a boss, an in-law, an instructor, a coach of your kid's soccer team, the parent of one of your kid's friends, your kid's teacher or principal, etc, and at some event you will have to listen to them speak. Well, I guess there is an alternative - you could just walk out on your boss, or just leave your kid's soccer game. Then you'll see what happens when you do, and you'll suffer the consequences of not having learned to live with the people around you who hold differing opinions.

Moscow On The Huron

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

Correction: you paid tens of thousands of dollars for an education, not to decide who speaks at your ceremony. Did you get some paper at some point that said, &quot;And also, for your tens of thousands of dollars, you will have a role in deciding who attends your ceremony?&quot; I'm guessing you didn't. Grow up - you are attending an event for which you are not part of the planning committee. This will not be the last time this happens. Actually, it will happen many, many times during your life. In some instances you will have the option of not attending. Some times you will be required to attend even in light of your disappointment. Learn to live with differing opinions around you. It's an adult skill you will need in order to hold a job (unless you end as a professor at a public university). This is the perfect opportunity to start learning that skill.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : noon

If the Grand Wizard of the KKK were the commencement speaker you would be ok with it? How about David Duke? What if they decided to put Khadafi or the president of Iran as the speaker? A bigot is a bigot is a bigot. If his &quot;opinion&quot; is wrong, it is not something that is required to be heard by educated people. This ceremony is not a free speech issue, since NOBODY is stopping him from speaking, Just not at their ceremony. I don;t have to invite idiots to my party and hear them talk. In the &quot;real world&quot; , which is a condescending statement in and of itself, I do not have to listen to people who are idiots speak. If I pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend the UM Law school, I should have some say in who is going to speak at my ceremony.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

How much did he donate to the Law School ? Money talks.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 11:29 a.m.

It's so easy to call someone anti-gay. Just bash them and put them down with such a sexist comment. Let me ask you, what's the difference between calling someone anti-gay vs calling someone gay? NOTHING. Hate is hate. Liberals just like to take down anyone that isn't as elite as them.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 6:28 p.m.

@joe.blow Michigan is not a private university, just FYI. Sorry to take away from your liberal-bashing


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 6:11 p.m.

@fjord, if you look at ALL private elite schools, who's graduating? Liberals. If you look at the wealthiest American's, they're all liberal. Liberals are elite. Don't believe me? Ask Bill Gates and Trump (before he thought Obama was a horrible president, when he claimed to be liberal).


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

@ fjord So I assume it's not hate to call someone gay who is actually gay?


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

How is calling someone anti-gay remotely sexist?

Terry Calhoun

Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

It's quite easy to consider someone a bigot, even work against them and their bigotry, and not hate them, Joe.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

It's not hate to call someone anti-gay who actually is anti-gay. And there's ample evidence that Senator Portman is anti-gay. Also, calling liberals &quot;elite&quot; is a meaningless talking point. Most of the true &quot;elites&quot; in this country vote Republican. Republicans have always been the party of the true elite, but if they get enough people to believe the opposite, they win another battle in the war of rhetoric. That's how they operate, because if voters understood what Republicans actually stand for, they'd never win another election.


Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 11:16 a.m.

Since when does freedom of speech mean never listening to someone with whom you disagree?