3 min

Students oppose honourary degree

Rabbi Rueven Bulka criticized for ties to reparative group

Carleton univer-sity is about to give an honourary doctorate of laws to a local rabbi who is an advisor to a us group that works on behalf of “curing” gays. But the university’s student union wants the honour withdrawn.

At issue is Rabbi Dr Rueven Bulka, an Ottawa religious leader prominent in local charities.

But Bulka is also on the scientific advisory committee of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a US-based organization that promotes a discredited psychological treatment of homosexuality.

Still, Carleton University wants to give Bulka an honourary Doctorate of Laws to reward an “outstanding career as a community leader and scholar and as a leading figure in humanitarian affairs,” wrote Dr David Atkinson, president of the university, in an e-mail to Capital Xtra.

The student union is furious-and they’re organizing an information demonstration for Jun 13.

“Conferring a degree to someone who participates in this organization shows that Carleton University supports institutionalized homophobia,” writes Katy McIntyre, vice-president of student services for Carleton Students’ Association, in a letter to Atkinson.

NARTH affirms “a complementary male-female model of gender and sexuality.” It endorses “reparative” therapy, which claims that gays can be cured by undergoing treatment to cure their “illness.”

Reparative therapies include electrical shock, chemical aversive therapy, drug and hormonal therapy, behavioural therapy, surgery and psychotherapy.

In a resolution before the American Psychological Association in 1994, NARTH spokesperson CW Socardies claimed “homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it… It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”

On NARTH’s website on Jun 5, the group asks members and supporters to sign a petition asking the US president and the governance of the American Psychological Association “to support the individual’s inalienable right to either claim a homosexual identity or to pursue change in sexual adaptation.”

But reparative therapies do not work, according to leading experts.

The American Psychiatric Association first recognized that homosexuality is not a mental illness in 1973. In 1990, the American Psychological Association stated that there is no scientific evidence that reparative therapies work-and that they can do more harm than good. They noted reports of suicides and guilt pervade from gays who have undergone them.

Bulka has also participated in a Nov 2005 pro-life conference in Montreal and has been outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Bulka sent an e-mail to Capital Xtra, citing a busy schedule in refusing an in-person interview. But he went on to defend NARTH: “If anyone can prove that this is a bigoted organization, I will resign from it immediately. I know the people involved, and they are all respectful human beings, with an obvious difference of opinion.

“The organization, ironically, is dedicated to the same principle of equality that we all hallow. It is that those who are uncomfortable with their orientation and want to be heterosexual, that therapy toward that end be available,” writes Bulka. “Does the therapy work? That is a matter of legitimate debate. Some think yes, others reject this claim. In the end, no therapy works for everyone. But to deny to those who really want to change the right to help in that direction is the denial of a fundamental human right.”

The American Psychiatry Association members defeated a 1994 resolution that would have branded reparative therapy un-ethical. A year later, the American Psychological Association again defeated a similar resolution. But a 1997 resolution by the latter group came close to calling the therapy unethical, noting “we want to expose the social context that creates this market.”

Student union activist McIntyre says that she has sent out e-mails to queer organizations across the country about the nomination of Bulka and received dozens of supporting letters in return.

And the Jun 1 campus Senate meeting considered, and defeated, a student motion to withdraw the nomination from Bulka.

The university president defends the award. “Carleton has always demonstrated great tolerance for such discourse and as such respects the views of those students who might not agree with some of Dr Bulka’s positions and statements,” Atkinson says. “We strongly believe that tolerance and diversity is applicable to all groups who might have conflicting views on a single issue.”

That’s not good enough, says McIntyre. The queer student says Bulka’s award means that Carleton is “legitimizing” homophobia, evidence that Carleton is not the “progressive university” she thought it was.

Bulka’s recent book is titled Religion From A To Z. Look under the letter “H” and there’s no section on homosexuality. However, under sections dealing with “Same-Sex Marriage,” “Sexuality and Spirituality,” “In Tune With The Times,” and “Marriage and Religion” Bulka claims the God of Jews proscribes homosexual sex.

McIntyre says the student association will hand out informational leaflets prior to the convocation ceremony at 2 pm on Jun 13 — the time that Bulka will be honoured by the university.