Student who wrote lesbians were ‘perverse’ in essay loses legal challenge against university
A student who wrote that lesbian relationships were “perverse” in an essay has lost her federal court appeal against the university.
Monica Pompeo had asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to find that the University of New Mexico (UNM) had violated her free speech rights after her professor didn’t grade the assignment.
In the essay, written about the 1985 film Desert Hearts, Pompeo made a series of homophobic comments about the central lesbian plotline.
Entered for a class called Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts, Pompeo’s assignment started off simply criticising the film, court documents note.
“For those uninterested in lesbian romance, the film is likely intolerable to watch in its entirety because there is virtually no other theme in the film,” she wrote.
She added that this meant there was “no reason for anyone other than lesbians who are unable to discern bad film from good film to endure Desert Hearts.”
And the direction of her essay quickly shifted to a fully fledged homophobic attack on lesbians.
Pompeo described one of the characters as “still sexually vibrant, in spite of her perverse attraction to the same sex”.
She also stated that “lesbianism is a very death-like state as far as its inability to reproduce naturally.”
Describing a scene in which two women share a bath, Pompeo said that the “only signs of potency in the form of the male cock exist in the emasculated body” of one character’s fiancé.
In response to an assigned article describing the women in the film as “gorgeous,” Pompeo wrote that “their general appearance conjures the cliché, ‘you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.’ ”
She then went on to portray the bath water as “essentially drowning out any chance of life considering their fatal attraction to one another.”
The film could be viewed “as entirely perverse in its desire and attempt to reverse the natural roles of man and woman in addition to championing the barren wombs of these women,” she concluded.
Her professor, Caroline Hinkley, told Pompeo she had made “unsupported generalisations about lesbians.”
She explained that “inflammatory” or “polemical” statements in particular must be “backed up with critical, authoritative citations and sources.”
Despite NMU agreeing to refund her tuition payments after she dropped out of the class and then the course, Pompeo sought to sue the university for damages.
Writing for the two-judge panel, Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero said Pompeo did not have an unrestricted right to use words in an essay which professors subjectively found offensive.
“Teaching students to avoid inflammatory language when writing for an academic audience qualifies as a legitimate pedagogical goal,” he wrote.
“Short of turning every classroom into a courtroom, we must entrust to educators these decisions that require judgments based on viewpoint.”