Maricopa Community College District board member Jerry Walker doesn’t like gays and is quick to tell you that. So it wasn’t surprising when he made inflammatory comments about gays last month to a gay Mesa Community College employee.
What is surprising is that Walker’s remarks have generated very little public outcry so far. Except from Walker himself who is seizing the opportunity to promote even more controversial ideas, including limiting political discussion in classrooms.
The encounter occurred April 12 between Walker and Nate Yazzie, a parttime MCC employee assisting the college’s American Indian adviser, at the school’s 40th anniversary celebration.
The Mesa Legend, MCC’s student newspaper, reported Monday that Walker and Yazzie were talking when Walker asked if a nearby multicolored flag, called a rainbow flag and signifying gay pride, belonged to a local gay group.
Yazzie said yes, to which Walker replied "It’s a shame that they’re here." Yazzie then said he was gay, to which Walker replied "It’s a shame you are."
In an interview Tuesday, Walker recalled a slightly different account.
Walker, who is part American Indian, struck up a conversation with Yazzie, who was at a table displaying items highlighting American Indian culture. When Walker asked about the rainbow flag, Yazzie said that he was gay, to which
Walker says he replied that he wished Yazzie was straight like him.
Claiming that gay people lead a "deviant lifestyle," Walker on Tuesday described himself as a practicing Baptist who subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible, which he said prohibits homosexuality, premarital sex and "doing anything abnormal."
"They’re trying to convince our children that’s normal behavior," he said.
Walker, 59, didn’t see the article in the student newspaper, but said the comments he made last month were his personal opinion and were not meant to be published.
Yazzie couldn’t be reached for comment.
Walker said Tuesday he was going to call district chancellor Rufus Glasper, but emphasized that he would not try to have Yazzie fired or disciplined. Still, he said, "Employees shouldn’t be involved in stirring up controversy."
Rick DeGraw, a district spokesman, said the district office had received eight complaints by Tuesday afternoon from people who questioned why Walker made such remarks.
"It is more difficult to convince people we are totally committed to diversity when not everyone is expressing that same view," DeGraw said. However, "we take this very seriously," he said.
For his part, Walker says he’s glad for the publicity because the issue needs attention and promised more controversy.
He plans to encourage the board to redefine "academic freedom" by restricting what can be talked about in college classrooms. He pointed to a recent incident in which an MCCD student was kicked out of class by a math instructor after the woman complained about the teacher’s "Bushbashing" comments. Walker declined to name the college, the teacher or the student.
The only subjects that should be talked about in class, he said, are those listed on the course syllabus.
Walker believes gay people have a right to an education, but they don’t have a right to promote same-sex relationships on campus.
Sonia Moreno -Filan, a spokeswoman for Mesa Community College, said Yazzie complained to dean Patti Cardenas-Adame, but has not filed a formal grievance.
Cardenas-Adame didn’t return a call.
Walker, a former Navy medic who holds an advanced counseling degree and studied theology, is one of five members of the district governing board. Active in Republican politics, he was elected in November, defeating Charles Backus, a former Arizona State University administrator and professor.
"I’m not disappointed," Walker said, about the recent publicity on his comments. "There’s a lot of attention that needs to be brought to this."