Delta State University, a public university in Cleveland, Miss., has become a target of criticism for its hiring of an anti-LGBTQ+ minister and podcaster as interim band director.
Steven Hugley, whose hiring was announced June 30, has cohosted a podcast called AlwaysRight “in which he mocked people who choose to be childless, agreed pro-LGBTQ religious leaders should be stoned and misgendered notable transgender people,” Mississippi Today reports. He is a pastor at the Bolivar Church of Christ, a conservative congregation in Cleveland.
In one episode, for instance, Hugley gagged at a picture of U.S. Army Major Jamie Lee Henry, the first active-duty officer to come out as trans, who has been indicted on a charge of providing confidential U.S. government information to Russia to assist that nation in its war against Ukraine.
Hugley said he took some pleasure in the fact that a trans person had been accused of such a crime, adding, “Oh, man, that picture, it’s haunting. Like, oh, I’m going to see that in my nightmares,” according to Mississippi Today. The segment was captioned “Man With No Loyalty to His Genitals Also Has No Loyalty to His Country.”
He has also called trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney “a flaccid man at best” and referred to U.S. Health and Human Services official Rachel Levine, a trans woman, as “a dude.” Misgendering trans people isn’t an insult, he said — it’s refusing to play into “their fantasy.” He’s said providers of gender-affirming care should be imprisoned.
In one segment, he and cohost Jeff Dotson lambasted LGBTQ-affirming religious leaders, with Dotson saying, “They should be afraid to be stoned spouting this kind of nonsense.” Hugley nodded. They have not posted new episodes since March.
Jonathan Szot, a library assistant and Pride organizer at Delta State, became concerned after seeing Hugley’s Facebook post about his hiring by the university. Szot has known Hugley for years, as they were in a music fraternity together while students at Delta State.
“Imagine you’re an 18-year-old band kid, probably one of the queerer groups in Mississippi — not to stereotype the whole group, but a lot of band kids end up somewhere in that alphabet — and now you’re going to college and you’re like ‘I’m gonna be free for once’ and you wind up with this,” Szot told Mississippi Today.
Szot collected anti-LGBTQ+ clips from Hugley’s podcast and presented them to the university’s coordinator for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Szot has demanded that Delta State rescind the band director’s hiring.
“If Steven wants to govern his own life by those rules, fine by me. It doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t bother me,” Szot said. “But he should not tell our students how they should behave, and based on his own podcast, I do not feel confident in his ability to separate his role as an educator in a university and as an evangelist.”
University officials declined comment to Mississippi Today, including on whether Dotson, who has worked in the registrar’s office at Delta State, is still employed there.
The Advocate has sought comment from the university but has yet to receive a response.
Mississippi Today reached Hugley, but he said he couldn’t talk long. He then locked his Twitter account and deleted all the podcast videos on his YouTube channel. He refused to speak to the publication again, and Dotson did not respond to a request for comment.
Kent Wessinger, the interim music department chair, told the outlet he couldn’t remember if he knew of the podcast when Hugley was hired. He added, “I’m not going to be the person that judges him for the positions that he takes, because everybody has positions that are adverse to other people.”
But civil liberties experts said the university would be within its rights to condemn Hugley’s views. “I would say what the university should do is not ignore this and address the community by reaching out to the communities most impacted by the speech first,” Kristen Shahverdian, a program coordinator with PEN America, told Mississippi Today. Perhaps Delta State could hire a second band director so students who were uncomfortable with Hugley wouldn’t have to deal with him, she said.
Szot, who is involved with Delta State’s LGBTQ+ group, Okra OUT, noted the difficulties in living in an ultraconservative state and the challenge in combating homophobia and transphobia. “It’s the whole paradox of tolerance,” they said. “To have a tolerant society, you cannot tolerate the intolerant. That is simply how that works.”