South Carolina House Budget Punishes Universities For Assigning Books With LGBT Themes

CREDIT: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

The South Carolina State House in Columbia.

A proposed South Carolina state budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes nearly $70,000 in funding cuts for two public colleges that assigned books addressing gay and lesbian themes. State Representative Garry Smith (R) originally advocated the measure that would take away $52,000 from the College of Charleston and $17,142 from the University of South Carolina Upstate. The House passed its full $24 billion budget with a 115-2 preliminary vote Tuesday and approved it for the Senate on Wednesday.

For its first-year summer reading program, the College of Charleston assigned Fun Home, an illustrated memoir that documents the writer’s experience coming to terms with her sexuality in small-town Pennsylvania. A 2006 piece in The New York Times Book Review described author Alison Bechdel’s memoir as “a story about a daughter trying to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality.” Bechdel’s father, a closeted gay man, dies in a car accident after his daughter comes out to him.

Students at South Carolina Upstate read Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of stories about the state’s first gay and lesbian radio show. A summary on the university’s first-year program page recalls an enthusiastic opening segment on the station: “For far too long, talk radio airwaves have been dominated by the people who talk about us. Starting this fall, we speak for ourselves!”

Smith told the The State newspaper that the books imposed a perspective on students rather than promoting dialogue: “One of the things I learned over the years is that if you want to make a point, you have to make it hurt,” he said. “I understand academic freedom, but this is not academic freedom … This was about promoting one side with no academic debate involved.”

The full House voted down multiple attempts to reverse the financial penalties proposed by the chamber’s budget committee. Additionally, it rejected amendments by Representative James Smith (D) to remove the provisions. However, the House did block a more drastic measure to keep $1 million from all public colleges that refuse to ban “pornographic content.”

Governor Nikki Haley (R) did not offer a specific comment on the book bans: “We haven’t looked at all the details of the budget yet,” she told The State. “I don’t want to get into the details of what the House did because, once the Senate gets it, sometimes they change that.”

This is not the first time a state has attempted to penalize its public universities for supporting or simply promoting the visibility of LGBT people. In May of 2013, an amendment that died in the Texas House would have allowed university student groups to discriminate against gay members . Similar legislation failed in Tennessee, but passed in Virginia. Texas A&M University nearly permitted students to opt out of paying fees toward the school’s GLBT Resource Center, before the student body president vetoed the measure. Passing the proposal would have saved students objecting to the Resource Center approximately $2 each.

Attempted book bans, meanwhile, are nothing new for the antigay community, particularly in the South. A failed 2004 Alabama bill would have banned books by gay authors or with gay characters from public school libraries. State legislators in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas made similar unsuccessful attempts.