Are SC legislators harming state universities on behalf of anti-gay groups?
“Based upon emails, blog posts, and statements from conservative figures in the state, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that a plan to attack the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate via the legislature was in the works ever since last year after a failed attempt to generate an outcry over the books .
Furthermore, based upon those same sources, this issue seems to be less about protecting students from obscenity and more about anger over the fact that gay-themed books were being assigned on university campuses.”
In my state of South Carolina, there is a serious controversy brewing with regards to the state legislature “penalizing” two colleges for assigning gay-theme books for students to read.
The new state budget deducts $70,000 collectively from the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate. The amount adds up to the how much the two colleges spent on the gay-themed books. Rep Garry Smith is leading the charge because he claims the books, Fun Home and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio doesn’t represent SC community values. Rep. Smith also made the accusation that the College of Charleston was pushing pornography on students. He pointed to images in one of the books, Fun Home, as proof of his charges.
The controversy has raised many questions with regards to academic freedom. Rep. Smith claimed that the universities are corrupting the ideas of academic freedom.
However, just where did Rep. Smith get the idea to go after these two colleges?
The answer may be remarkably simple.
Based upon emails, blog posts, and statements from conservative figures in the state, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that a plan to attack the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate via the legislature was in the works ever since last year after a failed attempt to generate an outcry over the books.
Furthermore, based upon those same sources, this issue seems to be less about protecting students from obscenity and more about anger over the fact that gay-themed books were being assigned on university campuses.
Late last year, an organization by the name of the Palmetto Family Council began raising a fuss about the books. For the uninitiated, the Palmetto Family Council is yet another one of those so-called morality groups which operates under the guise of “protecting the dignity of the family.”
The only problem is that their definition of “family” seems to only pertain to two-parent married heterosexual families. No single parent homes, and definitely no same-sex families allowed. And, like so many of these groups, their definition of protecting the family never seems to include debating issues such poverty, income inequality, educational inequality.
Rather, the Palmetto Family Council deals with issues regarding their definition of “Christian values” and how they pertain to the family, as if implying that the only families which do count in South Carolina are two-parent married heterosexual families who have the same personal religious beliefs that the organization does.
But back to the matter at hand.
In two posts on the organization’s blog from late 2013, the Palmetto Family Council railed away at College of Charleston for selecting Fun Home as a reading assignments for students. In the the first post, written on June 24, the Palmetto Family Council contrasts Fun Home to other books assigned by other state colleges and universities. And here is the interesting part. The organization doesn’t say one word about the so-called “pornography” of Fun Home. Instead, the Palmetto Family Council cites a publisher’s review of the book:
This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Bechdel’s talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man’s secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. (Review from Publisher’s Weekly)
The comparison made between Fun Home and the other books offered by other SC colleges and universities implied that the College of Charleston was engaging in some sort of ” gay indoctrination.” Palmetto Family Council also said the following in its post:
Which one of these books is not like the others? And exactly how bad is it? Stay tuned for the story of the family that arrived at CofC freshman orientation with happy anticipation only to discover the deep commitment the College has made to Fun Home and all that it symbolizes.
Now in the second post with regards to Fun Home, dated August 9, 2013, the Palmetto Family Council finally mentions the alleged pornography:
Ten South Carolina colleges assigned books for their freshmen to read. As we reported, a number of them selected sufficiently edgy, thought-provoking books. Then there is the College of Charleston’s Fun Home. Were it a movie, it would be NC-17, and not because of its ‘LGBT’ theme. Nine other colleges in South Carolina (and most in America) chose broad, healthy debate…and common sense. The College of Charleston chose to spend $50,000 in state funds and/or student tuition dollars on a narrowly-focused, cartoon (graphical), borderline pornographic book rarely used for this purpose.
That statement is a serious irony because, as I said, in its first post about Fun Home, the Palmetto Family Council never said a word about any pornography. In the August 9th post, the organization also complained about how the media was not giving them the angle they want:
The media has tried to turn our opposition to Fun Home into a dog bites man story: “right wing conservative group opposes book with references to Lesbianism; neo-Victorians seek to keep minds of young adults tightly closed.” That’s not the story. But then learning the truth takes time…and a desire to discover it. As for the book selection process, the task seems as easy as applying common sense, basic values, and a good grasp of reality to a wide variety of options. Nine of our ten colleges that assigned Freshman reading found a way to do that. Why was it so hard for CofC?
Now if this issue was simply about pornography, then why is the University of South Carolina-Upstate in trouble for assigning Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio when that book contains absolutely nothing which can be construed as pornographic? (Disclosure – I wrote a short piece on anti-gay propaganda which was included in Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio.)
According to a SC libertarian blog, FitsNews on August 13 of last year, the Palmetto Family Council sent out an action alert to its email subscribers complaining about Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio:
In an action alert to its subscribers, Palmetto Family Council blasted the book. “The University of South Carolina Upstate is taking its own shot at traditional South Carolina values using taxpayer and family tuition dollars,” the email noted.
Also, consider the following. On August 20 of last year, Josh Kimbrell, a conservative radio host of a show called Common Cents and head of an organization called the Palmetto Conservative Alliance, had this to say about Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio:
This is yet another example of how institutions of higher education across our state are ignoring the values held by the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians. To add insult to injury, these university-endorsed promotions of homosexuality are being paid for by tax money and / or mandatory student fees, effectively forcing the people of this state to support an agenda wholly opposed to our values. I half expect this kind of promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and California, but not at public universities in South Carolina. I also imagine that most of my fellow South Carolinians would be just as outraged if they were aware of such abuse. In an effort to reverse this publicly-funded promotion of homosexuality at public institutions in the Palmetto State, “Common Cents” and our policy foundation, the Palmetto Conservative Alliance, are working with our allies in the South Carolina House and Senate to introduce legislation that would forbid public universities from using public money and mandatory student fees to promote any sort of sexual agenda.
Below those comments is an audio of Kimbrell’s show in which he not only reiterated that his group would be working with “allies” in the SC Legislature, but also predicted (starting at 17:45) that in January, there would be legislation coming out designed to “put a stop” to so-called university promotion of homosexuality
Just what exactly is the Palmetto Conservative Alliance? Your guess is as good as mine. I could find no information on it, particularly its membership. However, I find it interesting that Kimbrell made an accurate prediction about upcoming legislation crafted in response to the book assignments; i.e. legislation which we are presently debating.
In addition, what are the odds that members of the legislature just happen to negatively target two universities which were the subjects of complaints by the Palmetto Family Council for the same reason – assigning students to read gay-themed books?
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
It is becoming more apparent that this controversy is less about pornography and more about some folks having a problem with universities assigning gay-themed literature to students. The “adult” material contained in Fun Home is merely a distraction, a sidebar if you will, to disguise the issue and make the faux outrage a bit more palpable to those who might not be following the issue.
There is one more facet to this story. When a constituent wrote State Senator Shane Martin an email protesting the cuts, the following was his reply:
I regret that you misunderstand the problem. The problem is that a public college is using taxpayer dollars to promote an agenda that the vast majority of taxpayers, the people that fund the school, do not agree with. No one in the General Assembly, including me, has banned any books. Colleges are free to use whatever books they want to use, or teach any classes they want to teach, or employ any professors they want to employ, unless and until they run afoul of the people paying the bill, the taxpayers. And if they want to do those things anyway, then they are free to find another source of funding. When you take your car in for service, would you want the mechanic to spray an air freshener in the car that they believed expressed their spiritual sense even if the air freshener made you sick? Of course not, and you wouldn’t pay for it. The public schools and colleges of South Carolina are not free agents. They work for the people of South Carolina, and if the people of South Carolina are unhappy with something going on at the public colleges, then those colleges are going to have change. I am very confident in the manner in which I represent my constituents, especially on this issue.
If one were to overlook the absolutely insulting idea of comparing South Carolina lgbts to air fresheners, there is that pesky bit of truth that those some South Carolina lgbts are also taxpayers. It is regrettable that on this particular point, Sen. Martin has chosen to be disingenuous.
This really was not an issue except for the Palmetto Family Council and other conservative groups. There was no outrage, no groundswell of anger against the universities on this issue. To this day, many South Carolinians still are not aware of what’s going on or why these decisions were made. And amongst those who are aware, there have been serious signs of discomfort with not only lawmakers attempting dictate how colleges can educate their students but also their attempt to erase a portion of the state’s population by reducing the dignity of their lives to the cynical categorization of “an agenda.”
Perhaps instead of a conversation about academic freedom, our legislators need to have one on just who do they serve. Do they serve all South Carolinians or organizations who have obviously overstepped their bounds in attempts to define “morality” and “families” in the Palmetto State?