Last year, two universities in South Carolina issued books to incoming freshmen that described the anguish of being gay in small-town America.
The S.C. Senate made their position on the books loud and clear on Tuesday, when both were effectively sent back into the closet.
The Senate voted Tuesday to punish the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina Upstate schools for purchasing gay-themed books for non-mandatory reading programs. The Senate will instead require those universities to use the same amount of money to teach the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.
In the fall of 2013, the College of Charleston spent $52,000 to distribute Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed Fun Home. USC Upstate spent $17,000 to provide Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of personal accounts of being gay in the South.
The budget amendment was the final measure after a day of debate that often resembled an old-fashioned tent revival meeting.
First out of the gate was Greenville Republican Sen. Tom Corbin, who drafted an amendment to take $100,000 from the budgets of both schools and give it to special needs children. Leading the opposition was Orangeburg Democrat Sen. Brad Hutto, who last week held a four-hour filibuster against punishing the schools.
Fun Home, a memoir in graphic novel form, was on trial for most of the morning, charged mainly with having a few images showing two women having sex.
“You can characterize a book however you want to,” Hutto said, “but that is not pornography in my mind. I think that’s adult subject matter that adults are able to look at.”
Several senators also pointed out through the day that the book’s subject matter involved pedophilia. The fact that it was part of a true story — involving life with a closeted gay father who may have seduced young men — never came up.
Corbin said that over the past few years, “Higher education has drifted further and further to the godless left with no accountability.”
When Hutto defended academic freedom, Corbin lost no time throwing the Hitler card.
“What if the university stood up and began to teach that Adolf Hitler was okay? That he should have exterminated all those Jews?”
Hutto said it would depend on the context, such as in a class showing Hitler’s rise to power. This went back and forth until Corbin hit the Jesus button.
“Senator, do you consider yourself a born-again Christian?”
Hutto said for the most part, yes, although like a lot of people he struggles from day to day.
Things got testier when Hutto called Corbin’s amendment “extreme,” which allowed Corbin to get indignant about how he was just trying to help deaf and blind children.
The subjects of religion and Thomas Jefferson — which had an at-best icy relationship historically — continued to play out through the day.
“Sin is everywhere,” thundered Spartanburg Sen. Lee Bright, who let it be known he was leaning toward becoming a preacher when the Lord called into politics. “I know that folks want to question God, because if we can knock God out over the homosexuality issue, all the other sin issues will knock him out too.”
Acting on information from the Drudge Report, Bright told a story about a man who wants to marry his computer, which he suggested was merely the next step down sin’s slippery slope.
Corbin’s amendment didn’t quite gain the necessary traction. Instead, the Senate went with an amendment from Berkeley Sen. Larry Grooms, who accurately pointed out that the only thing everyone would ever agree on would be not to cut money for higher education, but to tell them exactly how to spend it.
Aside from teaching the founding documents, the amendment further states that students with a “sincerely held religious, moral or cultural belief” should have the option of alternative reading for non-elective programs, and be able to skip any “mandatory lecture, seminar, or other similar type presentation or program, other than as part of an instructional class.”
What got lost throughout the day was just what the two books at the heart of the debate were about.
Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio isn’t explicit at all, and there’s a lot more to Fun Home than a few startling images.
No one brought up the fact that Bechdel’s book is deeply literary, or that it references Greek myths as well as the works and lives of Proust, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wilde and Joyce, or that it’s a novel about how great literature can reveal your inner life.
At the end of the day, words like “state-funded pornography” and “pedophilia” simply had a more exciting ring to them.
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