The independent news organization of Duke University

A plea to disinvite Professor Alvare

open letter

October 21, 2020

Dean Kerry Abrams

Dean of the School of Law at Duke University

abrams@law.duke.edu

RE: Putting Children at the Front Door of Family Law with Professor Alvare

Dear Dean Abrams,

We, the undersigned, are writing to respectfully request the removal of Professor Helen Alvare from the Putting Children at the Front Door of Family Law event being hosted by the Duke Federalist Society on Oct. 26, or in the alternative, the cancellation of the event.

Professor Helen Alvare, a professor at George Mason University School of Law, has been invited by the Duke Federalist Society to speak on Oct. 25. As described on the Duke Law website, the event will “focus on [. . .] the state’s role advocating for children in the familial structure.” While this may sound innocuous, the event is more concerning than may it first appear. Professor Alvare holds unapologetic anti-LGBTQ+ -rights views. She was a signatory to a letter of support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arizona; she has said that gays need to be told that “marriage is not in the cards for you,” and she has written articles questioning not only the legality but morality of same-sex marriages. It is dangerous precedent to Duke LGBTQ+ students to host a speaker who espouses such views.

In an amicus brief submitted in 2012, Professor Alvare wrote: “The state has a substantial interest in recognizing and encouraging marriage between opposite-sex pairs of adults [. . .] at the very same time, the state has a substantial state interest in disclaiming a similar interest in same-sex pairs of adults . . .” She continued: “Yet the new, diminished understanding of marriage advocated by same-sex marriage proponents is dangerous . . .” She goes on to argue that states have a public policy interest in not justifying homosexual partnerships as “marriages”, and she questions the “overall stability of same-sex couples and about the role played by bisexuality”. The brief both implicitly and explicitly challenges the validity of same-sex marriages, denies the dignity and integrity of LGBTQ+ parents, argues that same-sex childrearing is damaging to children, and suggests that same-sex marriages are inferior as compared to opposite-sex marriages.

It should be noted that several Duke Outlaw members approached the Federalist Society, asking them to cancel the event and acknowledge the harm her views have. Their efforts were rebuffed.

We are writing you today, Dean Abrams, because we are tired. We are tired of LGBTQ+ people being considered inferior. We are tired of LGBTQ+ people being considered incompetent. We are tired of LGBTQ+ people being considered dangerous. We are tired. But we are not tired enough to stop having our voices heard.

Among the many reasons to uninvite Professor Alvare, we wish to focus this letter on three of the more relevant: 1) the event will promote an unwelcoming environment for both current and future students at Duke, 2) the event expressly goes against Duke’s values,and 3) such an event damages the reputation of our university and student body.

***

First, an event with Professor Alvare fosters an unwelcome environment on campus by attacking the dignity of our LGBTQ+ peers. Alvare has spoken in the past at the anti-LGBTQ+ Legatus gathering, hosted by an organization that has published articles supporting conversion therapy in its magazine. She spoke at a 2014 Courage Conference, put on by a program that has provided literature suggesting therapy can turn gay people straight. 

It is easy to reduce tragedies to numbers. Consider this: 698,000. The number of LGBTQ+ lives that have been subjected to conversion therapy nationally. Of those, 350,000 were minors. Those who have undergone conversion therapy will be at 92% greater odds of lifetime suicidal ideation and 75% greater odds of planning to attempt suicide, according to a study by the UCLA Williams Institute School of Law. For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community those are not just numbers: those are lived experience for ourselves or for those who we know and love. It is personal.

Conversion therapy operates on a terribly simple premise: that LBGTQ people are deviant, perverted, aberrant, disgusting. That is why they need to be “fixed.” By logical extension, if they are such things, they are of course a danger to society. They are unfit to be parents; they are a threat to children. Their marriage is a “horrid natural experiment in our country” as Professor Alvare has said. This is not an alternate view on law in need of academic consideration; this is an alternate view on human dignity. Understand, this letter comes not only from a place of frustration, but also a place of fear: fear that there are some on this campus who are willing to entertain that LGBTQ+ people are less than. Fear that Obergefell v. Hodges and Bostock v. Clayton County are only five years and five months old respectively and already there those who are working to overturn them. How could Duke LGBTQ+ students not feel unwanted and unwelcome on a campus where organizations invite speakers who support those who actively oppose their very existence and administration officials turn a blind eye?

When we ask a speaker to come to Duke, we are giving that person space and license to express their views on a particular subject—and by so doing, we are implicitly signaling our willingness to tolerate or our approval of those views. By hosting a speaker who, in the least, entertains conversations of conversation therapy for LGBTQ+ persons and who views same-sex couples as less capable of raising children, Duke is signaling at least a willingness to engage in those discussions and at worst, a tacit endorsement of those opinions. By not condemning injustice, you condone it. And that is the signal Duke will be sending to not only our current LGBTQ+ student body, but to all future potential students applying to Duke as well.

***

Second, Duke has pledged itself to be a campus of diversity, equality and tolerance, and such an event undermines those professed values. Those values have been proudly displayed on Duke Law’s Diversity and Inclusion website which says: “Diversity at Duke Law is more than a statement or a goal: it is part of our educational mission.” As many of us were applying to law schools, we weighed heavily the environment in which we would be living. One of the most important factors in those calculations were Duke’s values. For us who see through a social justice lens, we explicitly considered what Duke offered to empower our value-driven passions. We were told that at Duke our diversity was not just tolerated, but celebrated.

The hosting of Professor Alvare is an explicit rejection of that promise. It is clear from her record that she does not value the diversity brought by the LGBTQ+ community. She stands for the very things that Duke asks us to stand against: homophobia and intolerance. What good are paper values to those who are faced with discrimination every day? What good are they to the 1,634 victims of sexual orientation or gender identity hate crimes in 2018, as reported by the FBI? What good are they to the 32 transgender or gender nonconforming people who have been killed in 2020 alone, as reported by the Human Rights Campaign? As a leading institution in the state, the nation and the world, Duke is looked to for leadership and courage. We are asking you only to have the courage to live the values you profess. We are asking you to set the example so the world may follow.

***

Lastly, by engaging with a speaker who espouses dangerous theories and who actively champions intolerance, Duke is demeaning its reputation as an institution and the reputation of its student body.

Conversion therapy has been disproven and condemned almost universally by every mainstream medical association and organization in the United States. There is no evidence at all that children suffer from being reared by same-sex couples; and there is no literature we could find that suggests LGBTQ+ people are abnormally inferior, incompetent, incapable or dangerous.

So then, what does it say about the standing of our institution when we are willing to engage with a speaker who has ties to pro-conversion-therapy groups in the name of ‘academic freedom’? Would we ever allow a speaker on campus who believed that an interracial marriage wasn’t as equal as an intraracial marriage because it was supposedly abnormal and damaging? Never. Such a thing is unconscionable in every way. So too should this be. We should treat any discourse on conversion therapy and anti-same-sex childrearing the same as we do to questions of QAnon, anti-interracial child rearing and anti-vaxxing: legally allowed but socially unaccepted. Duke should not disparage its ethical and intellectual reputation by hosting fringe speakers tied to blatantly dangerous theories, whether it be Professor Alvare now or other speakers in the future. You cannot change the color of the sky and you cannot change a person’s sexual orientation. And Duke should be signaling to the world that we here, at this university, do not think you should even try.

***

As aspiring lawyers, we sometimes forget that not everything is up for discussion. On some issues, there are not very fine people on both sides. There are moral rights and moral wrongs. Homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism – among many other forms of discrimination – have never been acceptable and cannot be accepted now. Part of your sacred trust and charge as our teachers is to not just teach us the law but to teach us how to use the law morally. You do this not just with classes and lectures but with words and actions. The undersigned therefore respectfully ask you to unequivocally denounce the views of Professor Alvare with respect LGBTQ+ rights; and to remove her from the event scheduled for Oct. 26, or in the alternative, to cancel the event entirely.

 Respectfully,

Zachary Sanfilippo, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Graham Stinnett, JD, 1L

Mary Aline Fertin, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Laurine Verwiel, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Neeki Memarzadeh, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Matt Steyl, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Edward Gonzales, JD, 2L 

Angela (Yanran) Lin, JD, 1L

Rebecca Reeves, JD, 1L

Alexandra Belzley, JD, 3L 

Harriet Dadzie, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Nima Agah, JD, 2L

Alexys Ogorek, JD, 1L

Tessa Young, JD, 1L

Alyssa Reyes, JD, 1L

Matthew Sanders, JD/LLM International Law, 2L

Sasha Kahn, JD, 1L

Chuyi Ye, JD, 1L

Claudia Benz, JD, 1L

Marino Leone, JD, 1L

McKenna Baker, JD, 2L

Ivy Moore, JD, 1L

Leah Garza, JD, 1L

Sarah Perlin, JD, 1L

Clara Nieman, JD, 1L

Evelyn Blanco, JD, 1L

Nathan Gray, JD, 1L

Brianna Drummond, JD, 1L

Gabby Levikow, JD, 1L

Hunter Albritton, JD, 3L

Kevin Siebs, JD, 3L

Maya Finkelstein, JD, 3L

Turner Collins, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Brendan M. Smith, JD, 3L

Vicki Ye, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Serena Tibrewala, JD/LLM International Law, 3L 

Alexander Bednar, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Elaine Nguyen, JD, 3L

Hayley Lawrence, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Caleb Logan, JD, 3L

Samuel Moore, JD, 3L

Addison Caruso, JD, 3L

Brendan McGuire, JD, 3L

Megan Mallonee, JD, 3L

Bridget Eklund, JD, 3L

Kelly Keglovits, JD, 1L

Casey Collins, JD, 3L

Richard Yang, JD, 2L

Courtney Suggs, JD, 3L

Zoey Twyford, JD, 3L

Joe Gu, JD, 3L

Leigh Davenport, JD, 2L

Dylan Jarrett, JD, 2L

Clare Holtzman, 2L JD/LLM-ICL

Kate Goldberg, JD, 2L

Karen Sheng, JD, 2L

Chelsea Shieh, JD, 2L

Marissa Valdez, JD, 1L

Erin Flood, JD, 2L 

Yoo Jung Hah, JD/LLM-LE, 1L

Theresa Babendreier, JD/LLM-ICL, 2L

Molly Bruce, JD/MEM, 4th year

Adeline Park, JD, 2L

Adam Golden, JD, 1L

Michelle Lou, JD, 2L

Casey Mason, JD, 1L

Lindsay Cooper, JD, 2L 

Daisy Gray, JD, 2L

Marie Mekosh, JD, 1L

Daniel Clark, JD, 1L

Arturo Nava, JD, 2L

Taliah Rodriguez, JD, 1L

Alex Obiol, JD, 1L

Esther Hong, JD, 2L

Eric Doan, JD, 1L

Chloe Shostak, JD, 2L

Hannah Elson, JD ‘20

Emmy Wydman, JD, 2L

Kyuwon Shim, JD, 1L

Andrea Guzman, JD, 2L

Zachary Pollack, JD/LLM International Law, 2L

Siqi Wang, JD, 3L

Britta Momanyi, JD, 2L

Jo Un Eom, JD/LLM-ICL, 2L

Andrew Hayes, JD, 3L

Thomas Napoli, JD, 3L

Racquel Adzima, JD, 3L

Patience Li, JD/LLMLE, 2L

Lauren Smith, JD, 3L 

Chris Ricigliano, JD, 3L

David Yates, JD, 3L

Dominique Estes, JD, 2L

Ann Esmond, JD, 3L

Elsa Haag, JD, 3L

Erodita Herrera, JD, 2L

Ali Rosenblatt, JD, 1L

Garmai Gorlorwulu, JD, 3L

John Hall, JD, 3L 

Becki Thompson, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

Alexandra Daniels, JD/LLM International Law, 2L 

Sofi Kim, JD/LLM International Law, 2L

Jeremy Mauritzen, JD, 2L

Luis Basurto Villanueva, JD, 2L

Megan Mason Dister, JD, 1L

Sherry Zhang, JD/LLM-ICL, 2L

Olivia Daniels, JD/LLM-ICL, 2L

Jordan Brown, JD, 2L

Henry Gargan, JD, 3L

Jonathan Choi, JD, 3L

Maryam Kanna, JD/LLM-ICL, 3L

Janet Bering, JD/MEM, 3L

Izaak Earnhardt, JD ‘20

Kaitlin Phillips, JD, 3L

Max King, JD, 3L

Brooke Reczka, JD, 3L

Hanna Nuñez Tse, JD, 2L

Matthew Ruby, JD, 3L

Edward Beach, JD, 2L

Jonathan Bass, JD/LLM, 3L

Lauren Johnson, JD, 2L

Julia Douglas, JD, 2L

Sarah Grace Forbes, JD, 2L

Ada Lin, JD, 3L

Chase Hamilton, JD, 3L

John Schwarcz, JD, 2L

Anneliese Hermann, JD, 2L

Andrew Webb, JD, 2L

Alex Cochran, JD, 3L

Kirsten Bleiweiss, JD, 2L

Kailen Malloy, JD, 3L

Vanessa Keverenge, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Catherine Tarantino, JD, 3L

Natalie Pate, JD, 3L

Brett Ries, JD, 1L

Rachel Nguyen, JD, 2L

Haley Harris, JD, 1L

Emma Li, JD, 2L

Stanley Sun, JD, 2L

Gloria Han, JD, 2L

Daniel Munoz, JD, 3L 

Nicole Phillips, JD, 3L

Tranae Felicien, JD, 2L

Adelyn Curran, JD, 2L

Chelsea Carlson, JD, 3L

Shannon O’Hara, JD/MEM, 2L

Nya Gavin, JD, 2L

Rita Yuru Fu, JD, 1L

James Lavery, JD/LLM, 3L

Andrew O’Shaughnessy, JD, 2L

Binx Saunders, JD, 1L

Jane Tien, JD/LLM International Law, 2L

Angela Sbano, JD 2L

Chris Johnson, JD, 3L

Jordan Fason, JD/LLM 1L

Emily Ledbetter, JD, 2L

Ryan Kuchinski, JD, 3L

Kendall Huennekens, JD, 2L

Libby King, JD, 1L

Charlotte Hogan, JD, 2L

Eric Roytman, JD, 3L

Laura Horowitz, JD, 2L

Samantha Fawcett, JD, 1L

Monica Calce, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Jacob Nagelberg, JD, 3L

Mohamed Satti, JD, 3L

Alexandria Murphy, JD 2L

Maisie Wilson, JD, 3L

Erin Hughes, JD, 3L

Krista Kowalczyk, JD, 3L

Jennifer McGrew, JD/PhD, 2L

Zoe Gabrielson, JD, 1L

Gabrielle Feliciani, JD, 1L

Molly Byman, JD, 3L

Erica Brackett, JD, 3L

Walker Halstad, JD, 1L

Julianna Ricigliano, JD, 1L

Elizabeth Schmitz, JD, 2L

Natalie Howard, JD, 2L

Alex Peterson, JD, 3L

Christopher Meadows, JD, 3L 

Robert Bourret, JD, 1L

Christian Rodriguez, JD/LLM International Law, 1L

Steven Dallas, JD, 3L

Jameris Ocasio, JD/LLM-ICL, 1L

Jared Shadeed, JD/LLM International Law, 3L

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