South Carolina colleges face slashed budgets over gay books

College of Charleston. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

College of Charleston. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

South Carolina lawmakers have moved to slash funding for two public universities because the schools assigned non-fiction, gay-themed books to students.

Last summer the College of Charleston’s College Reads program assigned students the book Fun Home, a graphic-novel memoir by Alison Bechdel. The University of South Carolina Upstate, meanwhile, assigned students Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a book that tells the story of South Carolina’s first LGBT radio show.

Republican state Rep. Garry Smith received an email from an upset parent whose daughter was bound for the College of Charleston, and Smith responded by pushing to cut the book budget for both colleges—$17,142 for USC Upstate and $52,000 for the College of Charleston.

“I think the university has to be reasonable and sensible to the feelings and beliefs of their students,” Rep. Smith told CNN. “That was totally ignored here. I was trying to hold the university accountable.”
In an email published in the Post and Courier, Michael Robertson, spokesman for the College of Charleston, said that the college did not force anyone to read Fun Home.
“The College of Charleston has never required students to read the books in the College Reads program,” Robertson said. “If students were opposed to the book, they were not forced to read it. If the course they were taking required them to read the book, they had the opportunity to drop out of that class and enter another class that did not have that requirement. At no time did the College of Charleston inform students that they were required to read the College Reads book.”USC Upstate’s English 101 students who didn’t want to read Out Loud could take the class in their second year, when the book would not be assigned.The cuts to the 2014-2015 state budget made it through the Higher Education subcommittee and the House Ways & Means committee before arriving at the full chamber, where the Republican-dominated House shot down four efforts to stop the cuts.The budget is next headed for the South Carolina Senate.

Bechdel, the lesbian cartoonist who created the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, addressed the controversy in a statement.

“It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book,” she said. “A book which is, after all, about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.”

Bechdel’s New York Times bestseller Fun Home tells the story of her unhappy, closeted gay father and her own struggle to come out.

Fun Home and Out Loud have both been assigned at colleges around the U.S. The use of Fun Home was previously challenged in Utah.