Recent antigay comments by Maricopa Community College District board member Jerry Walker seemed all but forgotten Friday evening when he spoke to students and family members at Mesa Community College’s graduation ceremony.
A crowd that included nearly 2,200 graduating students, hundreds of family members and friends, and hundreds of faculty members was quiet as he spoke. Some applauded politely when he finished.
"The human condition is flawed," he began. "We are not all flawed the same. But, just the same, we are all flawed."
The only hint of dissent came when several people in the audience rose and turned their backs as part of a silent protest organized by a gay and lesbian advocacy group.
"We, in spite of our flaws, try to understand each other," Walker told the crowd.
Last month, Walker objected to the display of a rainbow gay-pride flag by a campus group during MCC’s 40th anniversary celebration, and told a gay MCC employee he wished the employee was straight like him. In a later interview, he said gay people lead a "deviant lifestyle," and they are trying to convince children that being gay is OK. He is opposed to gay and lesbian groups on campus.
The Mesa Legend, MCC’s student newspaper, reported that Walker asked the employee if the gay-pride flag belonged to a local gay group. The employee said yes, to which Walker replied, "It’s a shame that they’re here."
The employee then said he was gay. Walker replied, "It’s a shame you are."
Walker also told the Tribune he wants to restrict what can be discussed in college classrooms after hearing about a student who was kicked out of a math class after she objected to the professor’s "Bush bashing" comments. Walker has declined to name the student or teacher.
Walker, who was elected to the five-member governing board in November, has said his comments were his own personal opinion and weren’t meant to be published.
More than 170 people have contacted the district about Walker’s comments since early May, said Rick DeGraw, a district spokesman. All but 13 were critical of Walker.
On Friday, MCC President Larry Christiansen downplayed the controversy, saying the focus should be on the graduates, not Walker.
MCC asked Walker to speak before his antigay remarks became public, Christiansen said.
The invitation wasn’t withdrawn because the governing board member representing MCC has always spoken at graduation ceremonies, and because it would have been impolite, Christiansen said.