The South Carolina State Senate has voted to restore funding that the House planned to cut from two public colleges over the assignment of LGBT-inclusive reading material, with the requirement that the money be spent on courses about the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents.
The Senate took the vote Tuesday, going along with a committee’s recommendation to restore the roughly $70,000 in funding, but adding Sen. Larry Grooms’s amendment regulating how the funds are spent, reports South Carolina newspaper The State. The Senate and House will have to reconcile differences in a conference committee before the budget goes to Gov. Nikki Haley.
“We spoke to the fact, ‘You did something wrong,’” Grooms said, according to The State. “This is a way of making amends.”
The reading material at issue, which Grooms called “pornography,” consisted of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, selected by the College of Charleston as part of its optional freshman reading list, and gay poet and professor Ed Madden’s Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, assigned by the University of South Carolina Upstate as summer reading for its English 101 course. In retaliation, in March the House voted to cut $17,163 from USC Upstate’s funding and $52,000 from the College of Charleston’s state allocation.
Grooms’s amendment would “require the schools to use the money to teach provisions and principles of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers as well as ‘the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals,’” The State reports. It also “mentions an outdated state law that requires colleges to teach the founding documents for a year and graduates to prove loyalty to the United States before receiving a degree,” the paper notes, adding that the state’s solicitor general “has called that 90-year-old law ‘constitutionally suspect and problematic.’”
Grooms, a Republican, came in for some bipartisan criticism. “You can wish away homosexuality all you want,” said Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat. “It’s been around for eons. ... It’s time for us to move into the century we live in.” Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a Republican who will become the College of Charleston’s president this summer, said of the amendment, “It chills academic freedom. Just because you disagree with people is not a reason to penalize them.”
Still, studying the founding documents will likely be eye-opening, said Ryan Wilson, executive director of LGBT rights group SC Equality. “We all could learn something here,” he said.
Wilson said another budgetary move made Tuesday “a sad day for USC Upstate.” The university is closing its Center for Women’s and Gender Studies on July 1 to save $45,000 a year. Chancellor Tom Moore said the closure was in no way a punishment for the center’s hosting of an LGBT symposium in April. The symposium had been scheduled to include a performance of the play How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less, but the performance was canceled due to outcry by some legislators who took the tongue-in-cheek title literally and claimed the show was a tool for “recruiting” people into homosexuality.
The closure is “part of an effort to be consistent and systematic across academic affairs in how we administer and support various programs,” Moore told The State, noting that women’s and gender studies was the only interdisciplinary minor at USC Upstate that had a dedicated center.