Was Duke’s College Republican chair impeached because he’s gay?

Headshot of Justin RobinetteJustin Robinette certainly thinks so. The Duke University junior was chair of the College Republicans until he was ousted because, he says, of his sexual orientation.

One of the “official” reasons cited for the impeachment is “conduct unbecoming of a person in a position of leadership, but Robinette tells a different story.

“Comments were made directly to me and my executive board before and after the meeting concerning my sexual orientation, calling me a supporter of the faggot center, calling me ironic, calling me disgusting.

Cliff Satell, former vice-chairman of the university’s College Republicans and president of the Duke Conservative Union, agrees.

Although several members of the organization’s executive board knew Robinette was gay, executive director Samuel Tasher found out only the weekend before the meeting took place, Satell and Robinette said.

“The fact that it went from a few people knowing to a lot of people knowing was a catalyst to his impeachment,” Satell said. “If he wasn’t gay, he would still be chairman.”

That seems about right. While the official line for why Robinette was removed is probably enough to keep the group out of trouble, I would imagine the anti-gay harassment Robinette endured are grounds for some sort of action. Thoughts?

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  • lucierohan

    I hope he fights it. Though I could understand why he wouldn’t want to because it only draws attention to you in a not very supportive environment.
    He deserves specific reasons for his impeachment, no? He should at least get a chance to call out all the fuckfaces who were obsessing over his sexuality at the meeting.
    If I were him I would not want to be part of that group (not because its republican but because this specific republican group seems to have some homophobes in it) but he definitely deserves an apology at least.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I suppose it depends on if hate crimes statutes exist in North Carolina and how they are applied. It might be prosecuted as emotional distress or slander, but those are notoriously difficult charges to make stick.

  • supremepizza

    This is a private club, I’m not sure anything can be done. The 1st Amendment Right to Associate is also the Right to Not Associate. While granted this is a private University (hence 1st Amendment wouldn’t apply) if any institution should honor 1st Amendment protections it should be Academia.
    Too many specifics to arbitrate this specific case in a blog I think, but this is interesting because it raises parallel issues to a case being argued in front of the Supreme Court today. Hasting’s College of Law says its has the right to prevent student clubs from excluding gay members from voting and holding office. While Duke, as a private institution, has that right, I don’t believe a public university does. To do otherwise would mean Jewish groups would have to let Holocaust Deniers run for office, or force Black Student Associations to let KKK members vote in their elections. We have a 1st Amendment in order to prevent just these types of absurd associations.
    (WaPo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/18/AR2010041802818.html and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/16/AR2010041602027.html )

  • Jessica

    Well, ok. I’m not sure about the legal recourse. But comparing a gay man holding office in a Republican group to a KKK member holding office in a POC group is quite…problematic.

  • cattrack2

    I’m not intentionally being obtuse here Kevin, but how is this a hate crime, in a legal sense? Unless hate speech accompanies a crime (as opposed to a civil action) I don’t think its a hate crime in the US…as opposed to, say, Europe.

  • flexiblecister

    the hastings case is very similar. there are many gay republicans and christians. why shouldn’t they join campus groups they identify with? and why should they be discriminated against for being who they are? also, the issue is school funding for campus groups. if they want student activity funds, they must have open membership policies.
    it is another issue entirely to be both a KKK member holding office/ a vote in a POC group because their intention would be most likely to derail the group’s core mission and harmony. but would a KKK member really be voted into an official position in a POC group? ideally, the only time a group should be able to kick out or revoke privileges from members is when they are being legitimately offensive/disturbing the peace.

  • supremepizza

    Sorry, don’t get me twisted. I’m not suggesting a homosexual Republican is equivalent to being a KKK Grand Wizard. Not in the slightest. What I’m saying is the legal principle which would allow a University to force a Republican club to associate with people it didn’t want to would necessarily force the same on a Black Student Union. And it wouldn’t end there. A campus NARAL group for instance could be forced to admit as voting members & officers people who are Pro-Life or from the Family Research Council. At the end of the day every group hates some other group. The NAACP hates the KKK, the Family Research Council hates the ACLU…Who gets to decide the politically correct list?
    I think you can say that kicking this guy out because he’s gay is reprehensible without saying that the solution is for the University to ban it.

  • Lily A

    comparing a gay man holding office in a Republican group to a KKK member holding office in a POC group is quite…problematic.
    Is it? The KKK is an institution which fights against the rights of people of color. The Republican Party is an institution which fights against the rights of gay people. Sure, if I were a Republican, I’d be happy to have gay people involved in party leadership. But given that the Republican Party tends to take public stances against gay marriage, anti-discrimination protections for gay people, and even the morality of having same-sex attractions, it makes sense that party members would not want a gay person to be their leader. Similarly, it would make sense for a Jewish organization to want to avoid having Holocaust deniers in leadership roles, because that person’s beliefs and actions would undermine the goals of the group. The Republicans are free to kick this guy to the curb — and I really don’t see why he would even want to fight to get his position back. Maybe the college Dems or more progressive groups would be happy to have him.

  • Jack

    think you can say that kicking this guy out because he’s gay is reprehensible without saying that the solution is for the University to ban it.

  • cattrack2

    “…it is another issue entirely to be both a KKK member holding office/ a vote in a POC group because their intention would be most likely to derail the group’s core mission and harmony…”
    Republicans might disagree. It wasn’t that long ago when the Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, returned a donation from the openly homosexual Log Cabin Republicans because he felt they were disruptive. (For the record they only wanted to meet with the guy.)
    In these cases we’re forced to choose between two types of discrimination, both bad. On one hand can a University force your group to associate with someone whom you don’t want to? On the other hand, can your group individually decide not to associate with others? These are both forms of discrimination. Of the two I believe University sponsored discrimination is more toxic because its at an institutional level, not at a individual or group level. When discrimination happens at an individual level it can be fought in the Free Marketplace of Ideas & the Court of Public Opinion. Not so when institutionally sponsored.

  • lucierohan

    “The Republicans are free to kick this guy to the curb — and I really don’t see why he would even want to fight to get his position back. Maybe the college Dems or more progressive groups would be happy to have him.”
    The problem with that is that THIS gay man isn’t a Dem or a progressive.
    Regardless of whether or not the Repubs have the legal obligation to include him (I’m pretty sure they don’t) I think the larger point is that a gay man shouldn’t be punished for having certain republican values. This kind of public humiliation and harassment shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of liberal/progressive wake up call. That seems kind of opportunist.
    Conversations about LGBT rights often frame the republican party as the antagonist, and rightfully so. But I think this situation is different. In this situation, the Republican party is the target for reform. The goal should be to make the Republican party more open to LGBT people (changing some of their social views is definitely part of that), not to rail against the republican party under the assumption that it could never be reformed in such a way.
    Basically I want this guy to be able to debate in favor of the bush doctrine while being an openly gay man. Instead of being pigeonholed into an ideology that doesn’t represent his views just because “hey, at least we’re letting you get through the door!”

  • instrumentjamlord

    Aside from the failure of the comparison by degree of severity, gay Republicans (usually closeted, usually voting against their own interests) seem to be the case more often than not these days. :)

  • flexiblecister

    He was a perfectly suitable Republican Club president before he was outed. Now, if he had covertly infiltrated their ranks to undermine the group, only to come out on top and shout some equivalent of “Gotcha!” that would have been impolite. But the boy just loves his conservative politics! And before the GOP turned politics into Jerry Springer, gay-hating was not supposed to be the core value of the party.
    Justin is probably just a smart kid who wants to remember the Good Ol’Days of believing in small government and small taxes, however deluded he may be.

  • SaraLaffs

    I don’t know about a hate crime, but NC did add sexual orientation to the anti-bullying statute last year. Not sure if that applies to college, though.

  • puckalish

    I was with you up until this: At the end of the day every group hates some other group.
    I think it is important to point out where a legal strategy to improve inclusiveness can be used by anyone. It is for this very reason the ACLU (and state unions) have supported the rights of hate groups to assemble – because the legal precedent set affects more positive assemblies as well.
    However, the NAACP doesn’t “hate” anyone. The KKK is an organization built upon a foundation of hate, whereas the NAACP is an established explicitly to “eliminate hate.” In fact, I can think of one case off hand where an NAACP leader (Wade Watts) went out of his way to *love* a Klan leader (John Clary) so much that the KKK (Imperial Wizard, I think) guy ended up becoming an anti-racist evangelist preacher.
    In terms of the law, I totally see where you’re coming from, but the example of the NAACP being comparable to groups like the KKK because they “hate” the Klan is, well, severely inaccurate and, as Jessica put it, “problematic.”

  • cbcb

    Nondiscrimination laws protecting students are designed to prevent minorities and oppressed groups from being forced out of all student activity. I might win my current fight against one student org for being sexist, precisely because the university has a nondiscrimination clause that prohibits sex discrimination. Are you seriously arguing that a University have no right to set up nondiscrimination policies for THEIR OWN clubs? If these people want to discriminate, they can set up a non-university club, the sexist pigs are free to run around without University sanction or funds. Does that mean a private university has to have such nondiscrimination policies? Legally no, but ethically they should. We don’t want students becoming pariahs on their own campuses due to sexuality, race, gender, etc. These kind of activities greatly improve one’s chance at grad school admissions, but hey, queers don’t need to go to grad school, do we? I think it is perfectly legitimate for a state to require that public unversities have such nondiscrimination polices. Because, a university club is not truly its own private club, it is a club that is given certain treatment by a university (funds, rooms, etc) based on certain conditions (there is usually paperwork, activity requirements, etc.). This means it is part of the university and is the university’s responsibility. It is absolutely Duke’s responsibility if it allows its clubs to discriminate against queer students.

  • supremepizza

    “However, the NAACP doesn’t “hate” anyone.”
    I don’t know that the NAACP is terribly fond of the KKK but I concede your point…Perhaps “disagrees with” would’ve been a better phrase…There’s no equating the two groups other than the fact that they’re both groups. I’m black & I’ve always supported the KKK’s right to march, ‘adopt’ highways, etc…

  • Lily A

    I wasn’t making any argument about what the University should or shouldn’t do, or what it has the right to do. I was just trying to say that it’s reasonable for Republicans not to want a gay man to be their leader, seeing as Republicans tend to favor policies that restrict gay people’s rights and even go so far as to call homosexuality immoral.

  • Dena

    I hope he fights it as well. I’m sure he has more than enough qualifications to successfully be the chair of the College Republicans… his being gay should not be a determining factor whatsoever. I definitely think he may have some legal grounds… well, if an attorney can actually prove that he was ousted because he is gay that is.

  • Max

    On the social and non-legal front, I think this may have something to do with conservative ideas of male-appropriate behavoir, i.e. it is considered not appropriately masculine to be romantically involved with other men. Perhaps, he was ousted because, upon testing his manliness, the Duke College Republicans discovered he could not fight off alligators, which, according to Frank Miniter, a real man knows how to do.
    This has some serious implications for the strictness with which masculinity is defined, especially within a conservative social group, and the damage that can be done to an otherwise completely qualified leader.

  • Claudia_T

    Honestly, I don’t know what he was expecting. Did he join the Republican party not knowing that it was the party of hate?
    Has he never seen a single gay-hating, women-hating, black-hating, foreigner-hating, intellectual-hating, progress-hating “tea-party” on TV nor seen the signs or heard the slogans?
    Or is he just astonished because the hate machinery turned on him, instead of all the “others” who “deserve” it? Since he is white, male, privileged, religious, conservative and hypocritical – almost all it takes to be a Republican, except, yes, except his sexuality?
    No pity from me.

  • Marc

    Heh, and the GOP wonders why it struggles with the young voters.
    Welcome to the Democratic Party, Justin.