Last week, a South Carolina House of Representatives committee approved a punitive funding cut for the College of Charleston because the school selected Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for an optional summer reading program. Now, both the author and regular South Carolinians are speaking out to urge legislators not to go down the path of censorship and intolerance.
In a statement to Publishers Weekly, Bechdel praised the college for standing firm in defense of intellectual freedom:
I’m very grateful to the people who taught my book at the College of Charleston. It was brave of them to do that given the conservative pressures they’re apparently under. I made a visit to the school last fall for which they also took some flak, but to their great credit they didn’t back down. It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book–a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.
Meanwhile, in-state defenders of Fun Home — and a book of essays called Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, which drew a similar proposed cut to the University of South Carolina-Upstate — are also making their voices heard. Even before the House committee vote, there was a plethora of social media accounts on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, a hashtag (#CofCisSoGay), and a petition asking the Legislature to restore the funding (more on that below). The South Carolina ACLU and the LGBT advocacy group SC Equality also issued a joint statement saying that “[t]he First Amendment was intended to protect all speech – even speech we don’t agree with — and politicians shouldn’t be in the business of dictating what we think.”
As this story blossoms across media, blogs, and social media — as well it should — we want to stress that the funding cuts have not yet been passed by the full Legislature or approved by Governor Nikki Haley. Remember “How a Bill Becomes a Law”? Right now we are at a relatively early stage in the process: The massive statewide higher education budget which includes the funding cuts has passed out of committee in the House, but it still needs to be voted on by the full House, reconciled with a Senate version, and signed or vetoed by the Governor. Every step of the way, there are opportunities for lawmakers to erase the ill-considered cuts before they actually see the light of day. The next time that could happen is March 10, when the House will vote on the budget. We’ll be watching, and we urge legislators to examine their consciences and their commitment to First Amendment rights for all.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.