Son of anti-gay professor comes out
The son of a Washington University physics professor notorious for publicly condemning homosexuality came out as gay in Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In an op-ed submission to the Post-Dispatch, Isaac Katz reflected on his personal struggles, and he criticized his father, Jonathan Katz, for his attacks on homosexuality.
Isaac Katz’s coming out was an unexpected development for Jonathan Katz, a tenured physics professor whose public statements have drawn intense opposition on campus and elsewhere. Jonathan Katz has since removed a controversial essay from his University website in which he attacked homosexuality.
Isaac Katz decided to disclose his sexual orientation publicly after news outlets reported that several gay teens committed suicide in recent weeks. He wrote about his own depression and attempts at suicide and offered reassurance to gay teens in his op-ed submission.
The younger Katz recalled his father’s homophobic views and wrote that when he told his parents over the summer that he was gay, his father said that he should “deny who I am rather than to engage in an act so abhorrent as to love another man.”
Isaac, who graduated this spring from the University of Pennsylvania, referred to his father’s controversial 1999 essay titled “In Defense of Homophobia,” in which the professor declared, “I am a homophobe and proud.” Katz posted the essay to his physics department website, but as of Sunday, the essay had been removed.
In late 2003, Katz added to the essay in response to protests over the exclusion of sexually active gays from University blood drives. In his response, Katz wrote: “In order to satisfy their demand for full acceptance by society, the homosexual movement demands to kill some transfusion recipients by infecting them with AIDS, or to kill patients who need transfusions by making it impossible for blood banks to collect blood.”
The piece ignited debate on campus in 2005 after a Student Life columnist questioned why the University condoned the posting of the essay on a University-sanctioned server.
The column prompted nine letters to the editor and two op-eds in a single issue, leading Katz to add another postscript with an analogy between gays and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
While the University hasn’t endorsed Katz’s statements, it did allow him to keep his essay on his University webpage, citing free exchange of ideas as a core component of academic freedom.
Katz made headlines again this summer after his controversial writings led to his removal from a team of scientists tasked with helping clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu appointed Katz to the post in May.
Katz did not return phone calls from Student Life on Sunday.
In his op-ed submission, Isaac Katz wrote that he did not think that his father should have been removed from the scientific panel.
“I don’t believe that anyone’s personal opinions have any impact on whether they can help fight oil spills” the younger Katz wrote. “To me…it is undeniable that removing him from the team for reasons unrelated to his scientific knowledge, academic credentials or intellectual capacity was a mistake.”
The younger Katz wrote that he does not want his coming out to serve solely as a family scandal. Rather, he wants to send a message to gay teens that, in the words of gay columnist Dan Savage, “It does get better.”
The Washington University Pride Alliance aims to make the struggle for gay teens and young adults easier. Adrienne Sands, co-president of the group, discussed the importance of creating a secure environment for gay students.
“It’s important to create a safe space, a safe community where people feel comfortable,” Sands said in an interview.
Promoting this open environment, Pride Alliance is participating in National Coming Out Day, Monday on the main quad between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
With additional reporting by Puneet Kollipara.