Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

College homophobic row

Prof alleges sack over sexual choice, institution denies

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 11.03.17

Bangalore, March 10: A sacked college teacher has alleged he was fired because he is gay, but the institution has denied the charges.

St Joseph's College says it sacked Ashley Tellis because the assistant professor of English, whose sexual orientation was known when he was appointed, paid "no heed to the sensitivities of undergraduate students from heterogeneous backgrounds".

Tellis has alleged on his Facebook page that principal Victor Lobo had summoned him at 9.30am yesterday halfway through his class and told him he had "disturbed" students with his "personal opinions".

"Students are very much disturbed by your opinion. You were hired to teach English literature, not to give your personal opinions," Lobo told him, according to Tellis.

Tellis says he was asked to sign on a resignation letter the college had drafted and to leave straightaway.

A statement from the college later said: "Prof Ashley Tellis was appointed on a temporary six-month contract in November 2016. He had clearly stated his orientation in his application and at the interview - the college deemed this to be his personal choice.

"Later, while we appreciated his intellectual abilities and his scholarship, we were pained to note that he seemed to pay no heed to the sensitivities of undergraduate students from heterogeneous backgrounds.

"After receiving several complaints from students and their parents about Prof Ashley having crossed the line repeatedly in his interaction and comments, the management decided that it would be for the best to terminate his services."

Tellis says it was the college administration's conservative views that cost him his job.

"I wish the students were really disturbed. It is the job of the teacher to keep the student disturbed," he wrote on his Facebook wall.

"If the student is not disturbed, how will anything change in the world? To be destabilised, to be disturbed (on the student's part) is the achievement of the teacher. It is not a reason to fire a teacher."

A few students who spoke to this newspaper were not too forthcoming. "I can only say he was a good teacher but some students did complain about his behaviour," a male student, who didn't want to be identified, said without elaboration.

Tellis signed off with: "This is not the first time this has happened to me and it will not be the last. But unlike the students, I have not, am not and will not take it lying down."

Kiran Jeevan, a professor who doubles as the college public relations officer, said the institution had "never discriminated against anyone based on their religion, caste or sexual orientation".

"In fact, we have held events for the LGBT community in the past," he said. "Certain complaints have been received from students about some disturbing opinions expressed by him (Tellis)."

Manohar Elavarthi, an LGBT activist, said he wouldn't comment because he didn't know the details but agreed that sexual minorities face difficulties in India.

"We have been fighting for LGBT rights for quite some years and have faced several roadblocks," he said.

Despite a colonial-era law that criminalises homosexual acts, and the police's alleged tendency to harass gay couples, Bangalore has an active LGBT community that even conducts film festivals celebrating members' sexual orientation.

"Most people treat us very badly but I haven't heard of anyone losing a job in Bangalore because he is gay, although there may be instances of people not finding jobs because of their sexual orientation," a gay man who asked not to be identified said.