Recently, the South Carolina Legislature proposed budget cuts for both the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina-Upstate which have sought to "punish" the schools for assigning summer reading books by gay authors, featuring gay characters.
In writing this piece, I recognize my bias. I am a freshman at the College of Charleston, the class assigned to read the book in the first place. I am also a gay person, part of the community under attack with regard to this controversy.
But additionally, and most importantly, I am someone who actually read Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home," unlike the majority of its dissenters.
I make this statement with the understanding that most if not all of the book's public critics haven't read much past the back cover, only taking notice of a brief panel toward the middle featuring two women engaging in a sex act.
Presumably, had they read or even skimmed the 240-page graphic novel, those speaking out against it would retract their claims of "pornography" or that the College is "promoting a lifestyle" by assigning it to its incoming class this past fall.
Having read it, I am able to accurately recount that the novel details Bechdel's precarious relationship with her father, particularly the events leading up to and occurring shortly after his suicide. The fact that he was gay, while important, is secondary. The author's own coming-out story is an aside, told only as a means to an end of accurately chronicling her father.
The novel is tightly wound and carefully written, each detail chosen to guide the audience through Bechdel's thought process as she makes sense of her grief. The College of Charleston is not "promoting" homosexuality to its freshmen by assigning this book any more than it is promoting suicide.
As for the aforementioned panel, deemed lewd by concerned parents before the school year even began, it is included as a fleeting moment of adolescent nostalgia amidst the discussion of a very heavy subject area. Students had the opportunity to hear Bechdel speak - sponsored by the College Reads - this past October, an event at which the author directly addressed this controversy. She explained that the use of nudity in an anecdote from her college years was simply a fact of life, just like using the bathroom or getting dressed in the morning.
Is the College "promoting" gay sex by assigning this book?
Probably not. The inclusion of sexual relationships in literature, as well as in the college environment itself, is not a new concept, even to freshmen. And for many of us who identify other than straight, seeing our relationships reflected in our education is rare, but decidedly refreshing.
However, the majority of students didn't bother to crack the book once last semester.
Unless it was assigned for their English class, why would they?
Furthermore, had they been in that circumstance and had been uncomfortable with some of the more adult themes, as Professor Alison Piepmeier said in her article for the Charleston City Paper, students were invited - even encouraged - to transfer into a different class.
So why are legislators punishing C of C for the introduction of "Fun Home" to this year's curriculum? A new blog called Homo Sweet Homo (found at gayfacesgayplaces.tumblr.com) seeks to answer just that.
Students, alums, friends and supporters from all over have uploaded photos of themselves with a message written on paper to Rep. Garry Smith, who proposed the $52,000 budget cut, and the rest of the South Carolina Legislature to hold them accountable for this blatant act of homophobia and censorship.
Less than six months ago, nearly one tenth of the student body gathered together at a demonstration in support of Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and a veteran gay rights activist. Recently, the Jewish Student Union and Hillel hosted an event called Queer Israel, opening a discussion of LGBT life as an Israeli citizen.
Even further, on Feb. 25 there was an interfaith forum on queer spirituality in the Robert Scott Small building. And let's not forget the huge number of LGBTQQAAIP and otherwise identified students, like myself, walking around campus alongside you.
The only thing the College of Charleston is promoting by assigning this book is a healthy and accepting campus environment for its increasingly diverse student body.
If Smith and other representatives are trying to punish them for that, they will have to try a lot harder.
Madeline Hodgman is a student at the College of Charleston.
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