SC Senate panel rejects bid to punish colleges over gay-themed books

A South Caroline Senate committee on Wednesday rejected a plan to cut the budgets of two state universities as punishment for selecting gay-themed books, including Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Fun Home, for their summer-reading programs.

The Associated Press reports that although Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler recommended adopting the House's $70,000 cuts, the Finance Committee voted 11-7 against the proposal. However, matter is expected to resurface next week as the full Senate takes up the state budget.

In early March the House approved a budget that would slice $52,000 from the College of Charleston and $17,142 from the University of South Carolina Upstate for recommending Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, about South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show, respectively. The figures represent the amount each school spent on last year’s programs.

During debates in the House's budget-writing committee and before the full body, some legislators accused the College of Charleston of promoting a gay agenda and forcing pornography on its students (it, however, should be noted that other lawmakers championed academic freedom, with Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter asserting that legislators shouldn’t be “pushing our own moral agenda on these institutions of higher learning").

The move sparked protests at both universities, and led to a coalition of free-speech advocacy groups, including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, to send a letter to the Senate warning that the proposed funding cuts would open the door to First Amendment lawsuits.

Just last week, Bechdel joined the producers and cast of the acclaimed Fun Home musical to bring the off-Broadway show to the College of Charleston for two performances. State Sen. Larry Grooms, a Charleston Republican who's been vocal in his opposition to the school selecting the graphic novel, promised to bring up that "protest" in debate, which means we'll likely hear from him next week.

"If lessons weren't learned over there, the Senate may speak a little bit louder than the House," he warned just days before the performances. "There would be a number of members in the Senate that would have a great interest in fixing the deficiencies at the College of Charleston."

However, Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, a Republican from Columbia, told The AP earlier this week that legislators shouldn't be micro-managing universities' curricula. "I think that should be up to the presidents of the institution and the board of trustees which the General Assembly elects," he said.

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