South Carolina Punishes Universities for LGBT Reading List with Extra Dose of America

Feature image via Think Progress

As a punishment for spending university resources on LGBT-themed reading material, two state-funded South Carolina schools are being required to teach about the United States founding documents. The University of South Carolina Upstate had the audacity to include Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic on its optional freshman reading list, while the College of Charleston irreverently incorporated Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, written by gay poet Ed Madden, into its summer reading assignments for its English 101 course. The nerve of these schools.

So much gay in your schools via GLAAD

via GLAAD

The South Carolina State House was so outraged about the LGBT-inclusive reading material that it planned in March to cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston budget and $17,000 from the USC Upstate budget, with each respective budget cut reflecting the amount of money that the universities spent on queer literature. The South Carolina Senate, on the other hand, had a better idea; the Senate voted to restore as much money as the universities spent on LGBT-themed reading material back to the schools with the stipulation that the schools devote the reinstated funds to courses that teach about the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents.

“We spoke to the fact, ‘You did something wrong,'” said Sen. Larry Grooms, the politician who added the requirement about how the universities must spend their new funds to the budget amendment. “This is a way of making amends.”

The budget amendment also allows students to receive an alternate required-reading and allows students to skip a mandatory lecture or seminar (as long as it’s not part of a class) “based on sincerely held religious, moral, or cultural belief.” The budget amendment also makes reference to an outdated state law that “requires colleges to teach the founding documents for a year and graduates to prove loyalty to the United States before receiving a degree.” So if you can justify your prejudice and bigotry by a particular belief system and are convincingly loyal to the United States government, you can read whatever you want. You’re on your own though if you like reading “pornography” — which is how Sen. Grooms described LGBT-inclusive literature.

This is Larry Grooms. Boo Larry Grooms via Advocate

This is Larry Grooms. Boo Larry Grooms
via Advocate

Although South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has approved the budget amendment, not all South Carolina politicians support the regulations. Democrat Sen. Brad Hutto criticized the Senate’s decision, exclaiming, “You can wish away homosexuality all you want. It’s been around for eons. …It’s time for us to move into the century we live in.” The incoming, Republican president of the College of Charleston, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, reflected that the amendment “chills academic freedom. Just because you disagree with people is not a reason to penalize them.”

LGBT advocates in South Carolina aren’t pushing back too hard, with executive director of LGBT rights group SC Equality Ryan Wilson suggesting “We all could learn something here.” It’s true that the State of South Carolina is providing us with a teachable moment. What I find most interesting about the South Carolina Senate’s decision is that somehow homosexuality and queerness are being constructed as mutually exclusive to “Americanness” or some kind of commitment to U.S. nationalism. Politicians like Sen. Grooms are insisting with this move that the remedy to these universities allocation of their funds to LGBT-inclusive literature — and mind you, the schools by no means banned “heterosexual literature” or mandated that all courses had to incorporate queer related texts — is to promote academic disciplines that support a more U.S.-centric approach. This gesture evokes outdated ideologies that portray queerness as anti-U.S. American, anti-patriotic, and a threat to U.S. principles. While I don’t think USC Upstate and The College of Charleston intended to complicate our understanding of queerness, perhaps Grooms has a point. Queerness, in its most politicized form, is a threat to the bigotry, hegemony, white supremacy, genocide, and misogyny present in the U.S. founding documents. A commitment to queerness reminds us of the institutional violence that the United States has enacted in a number of ways against its citizens, residents, and on a global level. If you need to straighten out (pun intended) these universities by bringing students back to the beginning of U.S. oppression, you indeed are teaching a lesson about the roots of injustice that perhaps speaks for itself. For the student who lost the option to read Fun Home and now sees increased support for U.S. history courses and literature, the South Carolina Senate has provided a curious demonstration of “progress.”

Who wants to read "pornography" when you can read the Constitution, am I right? via Citizens Project

Who wants to read “pornography” when you can read the Constitution, am I right?
via Citizens Project

Although the South Carolina Senate has offered a meta educational opportunity with its budget amendment, the news is still incredibly heartbreaking. Furthermore, along with the budget amendment, USC Upstate is closing its Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in a budgetary move to save the University $45,000 a year. Chancellor Tom Moore assures that the closing was not related to the Center’s LGBT symposium. It is important to mention, however, that a performance of the play How to Become A Lesbian in Ten Days or Less during the LGBT symposium was cancelled after South Carolina legislator, Mike Fair, denounced the play as an attempt to recruit young women to be lesbians even after graduation. These budget moves, which take effect July 1, 2014, demonstrate that the struggle for LGBT rights has come to the academic realm, but that instead of fighting with knowledge and intellectualism, these battles unfortunately are fought with state monetary resources.

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Helen McDonald is a 20-something college student living off of bad cooking, social justice and a lil snark. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog revolutionaryrainbows.tumblr.com and is a contributing writer at ElixHer.com

Helen has written 35 articles for us.

10 Comments

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    Teach United States founding documents? Sure. Teach that radical mofo Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, and above all, Alexander Hamilton’s love letters to John Laurens, scion of a South Carolina planter family. Teach George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s indifference to established religion, teach John Adams’s repulsion towards slavery. Teach Mercy Warren and Abigail Adams and Phillis Wheatley. Teach the fuck out of the radical strain that has existed since the Revolution.

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    Thank you for covering this, as a College of Charleston alum let me tell you that there were a lot of people who were very vocal about all of this crap (see: gayfacesgayplaces.tumblr.com). Just for accuracy though it was College of Charleston that assigned Fun Home for freshman reading and USC Upstate with Out Loud.

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      Was just coming down to the comments to make your correction. It is slightly relevant, as getting Fun Home banned landed us current CofC students a discounted concert version of the Fun Home musical with the original cast in Charleston.

      Of course, I would much rather have had that this entire disgrace not occurred at all, but hey, silver linings.

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    This really disgusts me. I used to value my southern roots and being brought up in a Charlestonian family. I love a lot of things about South Carolina, but the bigotry and backwards thinking kills me. It may not be much better here, but I am glad my parents moved to Florida to get away from the ideologies presented there… and our family.
    Whatever happened to the idea of academic freedom and trying to benefit the students? I work for a local college; budget cuts like those are going to make for a lot of unnecessary issues and retort. Have fun with that.

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    Tell me what we can learn here. Just tell me. What is really shocking to me is not that South Carolina’s Senate has pushed forward discriminatory, homophobic, disgusting legislation—that’s been happening since the days of Adam and Steve. What appalls me is the fact that the people who are supposed to be OUR advocates are not fighting this with all their might. Marriage is whatever. Give me representation and liberation and the bridal gowns will come later.

    Also, notice how they are promoting the texts of rich old white cishet dudes (I’m looking at you, TJ, Ben Franklin, George W.) whose texts are used to uphold oppression all the fucking time. Isn’t that just dandy.

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    So glad that someone has written about this on autostraddle. As a College of Charleston alum who still lives in Charleston it pains me to see the lgbt community at the university struggling to be recognized and respected. There has been a huge outcry from those members within the college AND outside the college and it has been wonderful to see how strong our community really is.

    I would like to add a correction though which I’m sure other people will point out. It was College of Charleston who assigned Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and USC Upstate who assigned Out Loud.

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    Ed Madden is (maybe was) a professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. I actually took one of his courses. He talked how it was a struggle to even get our course (Sexual Diversities) added, so this doesn’t surprise me.

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