Matthew Karkutt wins a Special Citation for Extraordinary Achievement
Matthew Karkutt graduated in May 2011 with an interdisciplinary major in Sexuality, History, and Culture and highest honors in English for his thesis, "AIDS in the Age of Genocide."
How did the Program in Sexuality Studies enrich your undergraduate experience?
My intersecting interests in mass atrocity, sexuality/gender performance, literature, and theories of oppression and social change found engaging place in UNC’s Sexuality Studies Program. In one of my favorite classes, Comparative Queer Politics (WMST 410), taught by Professor Karen Booth, I learned to think about the term queer and sexual/gender identities on a global, as well as culturally specific scale. It was challenging to disassociate much of my learning and identity on the subject when reading and discussing ways of thinking about gender in places that had little or nothing to do with sexual practice. The challenge and rewards of this course, however, were not uncommon in the Sexuality Studies Program at UNC. Their theoretical correspondence with my English degree and courses made for a rich curriculum of study, inquiry, and academic satisfaction.
Could you tell us about your honors thesis, which won highest honors in the English department?
My honors thesis, AIDS and the Angels of Genocide, began as a way of thinking about the AIDS crisis as a genocidal system against gay men, as reflected through Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Quickly, however, because of the theory that the sexuality studies program had grounded me with, and my intersecting experiences abroad, I found myself making an interjection in the critical philosophy of history and the law—a place that, years prior, I would have had trouble imagining making a contribution.
You've had a longstanding interest in genocide. How did that lead to work on gay rights in Africa?
At the end of my sophomore year, I was selected for a Burch Research Seminar, housed in the honors department, on international criminal law. We traveled first to Africa and then to The Hague. While in Africa, I sat in on trials in Arusha, Tanzania at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and then studied at the Commission on the Fight Against the Genocide in Kigali, Rwanda, as well as the National University of Rwanda in Butare, Rwanda.
In Rwanda, I conducted an individual research project on the status of LGBTQ-identifying individuals in Rwanda, as well as ‘legal opportunity’ (via the newly written Rwandan constitution) for various rights. The post-Apartheid constitutional rewrite in South Africa has served as a catalyst for gay rights groups in other African nations to claim their rights to legal protection. In Rwanda, the post-Apartheid and post-genocide juxtaposition was fascinating and challenging—intellectually and personally.
I was specifically interested in various religious factions’ uses of genocidal rhetoric to advance a moralistic cause against sexual minorities. Using the incredibly loaded language of homosexuality as “moral genocide,” various sects of the Catholic and Episcopalian churches have attempted to advocate for legislation against the existence of these people—a few of whom I was able to speak with in person and through online communication. The paper I wrote, "Rwanda, Rights, and the Rainbow," argues that the legal opportunity, while present within the constitution, is stifled by the presence of church, journalistic, and governmental bodies.
What's next ?
What’s next for Matt Karkutt is a question I’ve been getting a lot! Broadly predicting, I will be attending graduate school after a year or seven off. I’ve been entertaining the idea of JD/PhD programs dealing with history and law to keep my interest in the history of mass atrocity and legal intervention humming. A former corps member of the National Ballet and a dancer with UNC’s Modernextension Dance Company, I’m also considering auditioning for a few dance theaters and institutes, specifically the Martha Graham Company. There’s also my fluency in Tolkien’s Elven languages that must be utilized. . . . I’ve recently been contacted by a New Zealand tour agency…
Regardless of what’s next, I leave UNC with a degree in Sexuality, History, and Culture that has taught me the invaluable intellectual processes of critical thinking and interpretation. I leave UNC with an open mind, an appreciation for what the history of action can do, and, always, a belief in possibility.