The Art of Darkness

ASU art professor Joe Young has spent four years telling the world he's the victim of institutional homophobia. But he's no victim. He's the incredibly persistent aggressor in a long, vicious game of smear-the-boss.

Neither incident has been the basis for a finding of discrimination. And, of course, neither incident has anything to do with anyone's behavior in regard to Joe Young.

Actually, there is no hard evidence supporting Young's claim he has suffered from antigay bias at the art school--and a good deal of evidence that he is not the victim of academic homophobia.

But a lack of evidence hasn't stopped Young from complaining--and complaining--about homophobia.

Since he first wrote to his colleagues in April 1992 complaining of discrimination, Young has sought remedy for perceived slights--from the allegedly major to the very, very minor--through every available channel in the university. Young has griped about everything from his annual reviews to the quality of his university-issued computer.

His most recent letter, dated October 13, 1996, and photocopied to the usual, two-page list of recipients, accuses Julie Codell of throwing a rock through the window of his Scottsdale house--although he has absolutely no proof that she was in any way related to the broken window.

Young regularly forwards his correspondence to a list of hundreds, including Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington III, ASU and University of Arizona students, faculty and administrators, Arizona Board of Regents members, gay-rights organizations, members of the media, the American Civil Liberties Union, sex columnist Susie Bright and art academics across the country.

He acknowledges spending thousands of dollars on these mailings.
Here's where the art part comes in:
Young takes pieces of his own letters, along with copies of the meager handful of news articles that those letters have inspired, mostly in ASU's State Press, cuts them up and makes collages on huge canvases. He adds photographs of Julie Codell and religious symbols, paints over the collage--sometimes the painting is a portrait of Codell, sometimes it's a self-portrait, sometimes it consists of religious symbols and doves--incorporates his "I ยช You Homophobia" theme and glues handfuls of beads onto the finished product.

And when the ASU School of Art refuses each year to accept Young's studio artwork as satisfying the requirement that he conduct research in his field--Young is employed as an art historian, not a studio artist--he cries foul.

Which necessitates more letters, which are grist for more art, which, of course, does not satisfy Young's research requirement the next time around.

You get the picture.
Whether ASU School of Art students, faculty and administrators are more or less homophobic than the population at large probably will never be determined in an empirical fashion. But one thing is certain: Many of those students, faculty and administrators are terrified of Joe Young.

And it's not because he's gay.
Of the almost two dozen gallery owners, art critics, consultants, gay-rights activists and ASU faculty, administrators and students interviewed for this story, only a few were willing to go on the record regarding Young's performance at ASU.

Privately, many say Young is volatile and meanspirited. They fear that if they speak out, they might end up as subjects in Young's next painting series. A few even fear for Julie Codell's safety.

One ASU employee, who asked not to be identified by name, says, "This is really borderline hate speech. The person with the hate speech problem is Joe, not Julie."

Codell refuses to discuss Young or defend herself against his thinly documented accusations. She doesn't really have to.

For all his piles and piles of alleged documentation, Young has been unable to convince those one would assume to be his natural allies--the American Association of University Professors, the ASU faculty's gay and lesbian association, known as Ubiquity, or major gay publications--that he is a victim of discrimination.

"Ubiquity doesn't have much to say about Joe Young's situation, and I personally don't have much to say about it," Dawn Bates, an associate professor of English and member of Ubiquity, says in a message left in response to a request for an interview. ". . . to tell you the honest truth, in my dealings with Joe Young, he has not shown himself to be a very reasonable person, and so I hesitate to get myself involved in any way that would make me come into contact with him again."

Echo, the local gay magazine, which has written about claims of antigay discrimination far less wide-ranging than those of Joe Young, hasn't published a word about Young's plight.

Young insists the fact that he has been ignored is further evidence that he is a victim of homophobia.

In a 1995 letter to an ASU grievance committee, he wrote, "The response to my repeated pleas for justice and assistance has been a conspiracy of silence regarding unethical conduct on the part of the university administration and faculty. Like a female rape victim who is blamed for being responsible for her attack, I have been blamed for the transgressions of my superiors who I have proven to have repeatedly lied about me."

In fact, a careful review of eight thick three-ring binders provided by Young to New Times--binders packed with Young's writings, annual reviews and correspondence from ASU faculty and administrators over the past four years--found no concrete evidence of homophobia directed at Young, or at anyone else in the ASU art school.

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