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Uproar Continues Over Gay Content at S.C. Universities

By Rodney Welch
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 |
The S.C. House of Representatives made budget cuts for the cost of copies of Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio.
The University of South Carolina Upstate announced the cancellation Friday of a scheduled performance of a gay-themed theatrical production — the latest round in a series of events that suggests the controversy over assigned reading at state universities may not quiet down any time soon.

The production, a one-woman show titled How To Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less by performance artist Leigh Hendrix, was to be part of the April 10-11 Bodies of Knowledge Symposium.

The performance was cancelled by USC Upstate Chancellor Tom Moore, according to university spokesperson Tammy Whaley.

Whaley said in an email statement that the title of the show was intended to be satirical.

“The controversy surrounding this performance has become a distraction to the educational mission of USC Upstate and the overall purpose of the Bodies of Knowledge Symposium,” the statement read. “As a result, we have cancelled this segment of the Symposium.”

The Friday cancellation came at the end of a week where the S.C. General Assembly ousted trustee Daniel Ravenel from the College of Charleston, and Upstate Republican S.C. Senators Mike Fair and Lee Bright voted unsuccessfully to unseat trustees of the University of South Carolina — actions which all seemed to revolve around lingering controversies over assigned or textbook reading.

In the fall of 2013, the College of Charleston chose Alison Bechdel’s coming-out memoir Fun Home for the school’s College Reads! Program.

At the other end of the state, USC Upstate chose Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of essays about the experience of being gay or lesbian, for its annual Preface orientation program for freshmen.

In early March, the S.C. House of Representatives made minor but strongly symbolic budget cuts to both schools for the costs of the books: $52,000 for the College of Charleston and $17,162 for USC Upstate.

According to a story in the Charleston Post and Courier, legislators voted off Ravenel, who was running unopposed, for several reasons, one of them being his “wavering stance” on the Fun Home issue.

Fair and Bright’s “no” votes last week against USC trustees were more direct. They took aim not only at USC Upstate’s reading selection and the Hendrix performance, but also at USC’s main campus in Columbia, where a sociology textbook had drawn fire from the right over its critical portrait of the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Fair says his vote wasn’t aimed at individual trustees. Rather, he said, it was in protest “of certain questionable events that have occurred at USC Upstate and the main campus.”

Also, it was a means of giving parents some ammunition when it comes to picking colleges, he says.

Parents should ask college recruiters, Fair says, if “they have these kinds of programs that encourage young people to express their sexuality without regard to ethics and morality.”

Fair — a staunch religious conservative who believes homosexuality is morally wrong — says that while Americans have inalienable rights, glorifying homosexuality at taxpayers’ expense is not one of them.

When Free Times pointed out that homosexuals pay taxes, too, as do the families of gay college students, Fair suggested they are also lawbreakers.

He pointed to an antiquated state law against “the abominable act of buggery.” While the law is not enforced and homosexuality is not exactly illegal, Fair admits, he says it is still immoral and unhealthy.

“I have a real concern for our culture, that not enough people are thinking about right and wrong, because a lot of people are thinking it’s whatever you want to do,” Fair says.

Doesn’t morality extend to teaching tolerance of homosexuality in a free society? Isn’t that what USC Upstate and the College of Charleston were trying to accomplish?

“I don’t believe that,” he says. Actually, he said, homosexuals “lack security in their conviction that what they’re doing is okay.”

Were the schools deliberately spoiling for a fight?

“I wouldn’t say a fight, but yes, I think they were doing it to raise these kinds of conversations that were bound to come,” Fair says.

Peter Caster, department chair of Languages, Literature and Composition at USC Upstate, says the school wasn’t trying to go out of its way to sensitize students to the LGBT community.

Actually, he said, it was the other way around — that students themselves are behind the issue. Caster cited a recent front-page school newspaper headline about the formation of a local chapter of Athlete Ally, a national group that supports gay athletes.

“The recognition and acceptance of the gay and lesbian population in South Carolina — that’s something that students themselves are steering, as much as anybody else at least,” Caster says.

He says the campus also has a strong Christian community among its staff and students.

“We’re all capable of co-existing,” he says. “We’re all capable of supporting one another. We feel the university is a place for an open expression of ideas, and where we cannot just tolerate difference, but celebrate difference.”

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