As an undergraduate student at UNC, newly-elected UNC System President Peter Hans attempted to stop funding from going to the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association, according to a 1988 Daily Tar Heel article.
In direct response to the 1988 article, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz did not acknowledge Hans’ involvement in defunding efforts, but said Hans “has a demonstrated track record on inclusivity as the president of the North Carolina Community College System” in a July 20 email to the DTH.
Since his appointment, Hans has not responded to multiple interview requests from the DTH about his previous involvement in attempts to defund the CGLA.
‘They dominate campus politics’
As a sophomore at UNC, Hans served as a spokesperson for a student panel advising Campus Watch — an organization that was formed to “defend traditional American values” on North Carolina college campuses. The group lobbied the North Carolina General Assembly to pass legislation that would prevent mandatory student fees from going toward LGBTQ+ groups at universities in the state, according to the 1988 article.
Hans and two other men interviewed "said they were personally opposed to homosexuality, but that that was not why they were trying to stop CGLA funding," the DTH reported.
In the same DTH article, Hans said his personal beliefs were irrelevant to his stance on defunding the group.
“This is an example of how they dominate campus politics,” Hans said in 1988.
The DTH previously reported on rumors that N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore was in the running for the position of UNC System president. Moore, who also attended UNC in the 1990s, was speaker of the Student Congress and like Hans, attempted to defund the CGLA.
Mark Kleinschmidt served on Chapel Hill’s Town Council, and was the Town’s first openly gay mayor. Kleinschmidt graduated from UNC in 1992, and recalled efforts to defund the CGLA from peers, including Moore and Hans.
“You can’t have been out and gay, and not have known about Campus Watch and the efforts to defund CGLA,” he said.
Kleinschmidt said he also recognizes that Hans’ comments were made more than 30 years ago, when he was a sophomore in college.
“It's the time of your life in which you are not just allowed, but encouraged, to make mistakes,” Kleinschmidt said. “And it's the test of whether or not you're in a position to provide the kind of leadership we're asking him to provide now, is whether or not over the course of that time you have been able to learn from those mistakes and become worthy of this exalted position.”
Kleinschmidt said he believes someone who was as vocal as Hans was at the time owes it to UNC System constituents to explain if his opinions have since changed.
“It can't be just lip service to LGBTQ equality, I want to know what the story is,” he said. “...Because it's easy enough to find the right words to say on the internet. It's harder to evidence changes in heart.”
Other UNC graduates have expressed concern at Hans’ appointment as UNC System president.
“I can't believe Peter Hans is UNC System president. I remember him from our time as fellow UNC students, when he was a rabid anti-gay activist. I've followed his career sporadically since, so I know that's not the sum and substance of his life. But he was very aggressive,” said Samuel Bagenstos, civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of Michigan, in a tweet.
Mackenzie Thomas, president of the Carolina Pride Alum Network, said in an email that it’s imperative that University leadership be reflective of and support the diversity of students and the state.
“While public sentiment around LGBTQ+ equality has certainly shifted over the years thanks to the work and lives of many queer and trans people of color in particular, we must ensure that elected and appointed officials are truly fighting for our most marginalized communities,” Thomas said.
Hans' previous policies
Prior to assuming his position as UNC System president, Hans served as chairperson of the Board of Governors from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, the BOG struck down a gender-neutral housing option, which the UNC Board of Trustees had approved unanimously and was intended for all 17 institutions.
The DTH reported that Board members believed taxpayer dollars could be used to make students feel safe on campus through other means. Hans specifically said that campuses could create outreach programs for LGBTQ+ students.
“The Board believes there are more practical ways to achieve that goal than assigning young men and women to the same campus suite,” Hans stated at the time.
In the wake of Hans’ appointment as UNC System president, several state and UNC System representatives expressed confidence that he would bring a bipartisan approach to the BOG.
Guskiewicz said in his email statement that he is confident Hans will help foster an inclusive environment.
“I am committed to fostering an environment whereby the personal rights, lives and dignity of every member of our University community matters; I am confident that President-elect Hans will work alongside us to ensure we accomplish this common goal,” Guskiewicz said.
Collyn Smith, a queer junior and undergraduate senator at UNC, said actions by the BOG, like shuttering the gender-neutral housing option, are indicative of a lasting disconnect between upper-level administrators and students.
“We need someone who is putting students first, and to look at someone who not only looked at the existence of someone like me and said there's no validity to that, but ‘I'm going to make it a personal goal of mine to ensure that you don't have spaces on campus or in, honestly, a microcosm of society’ — it's so disappointing to say that these things don't shock me because I've dealt with this all of my life,” Smith said.
UNC graduate Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus in the political science department at Hunter College who focuses on LGBTQ+ politics, said the purpose of a public university is to make high-quality education available to all, which can’t be done if certain groups of people are ignored.
“If the new president still holds the views that he held, then, in fact, he's not qualified to be president, because he doesn't know what public higher education is supposed to be doing,” Sherrill said.
CGLA was initially founded in 1974 as the Carolina Gay Association, but over the years has evolved into different student groups. Today, the organization is known as the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.
According to their Campus Y webpage, the group has faced numerous defunding attempts from student government and the state legislature, and became more politically active as the AIDS crisis worsened in the 1980s.
Ndobe Foletia, secretary of SAGA, said despite defunding attempts over the years, SAGA has adapted to find ways to maintain a presence and safe space on campus. Kleinschmidt said when he was a member of CGLA, there were even meetings that weren’t publicly advertised and required calling in for the location, just to ensure students’ safety.
“When it comes to student clubs like SAGA, we are primarily here for students, by students,” Foletia said. “And regardless of what campaigns might get led to defend us, we will always be here to support our community on campus.”
Smith said though he believes there needs to be direct accountability on the part of Hans, an apology or explanation does not absolve him from assuming responsibility for his past actions.
“At the end of the day, if there's an apology or there's some kind of statement on this, that's not for him to decide that he has completely made up for that,” he said. “That is for the people that he is directly harmed to think and reflect on what that means, and what he has done in the past and his actions.”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article incorrectly contextualized Mark Kleinschmidt as currently serving on the Chapel Hill Town Council. The article has been updated to reflect that he is a former town council member. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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