Saturday, May 10, 2014

Freedom to read under threat in South Carolina

As a Wyomingite, I can't really complain about another state's legislature's interference in the affairs of higher learning without bringing up some of our own home-grown depredations.

Remember how loudly Wyoming Republican lawmakers complained when former leftie radical Bill Ayers was invited to speak at UW? And, to be fair, it wasn't only Republicans. UW grad and Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal lodged a complaint about Ayers. And remember how lawmakers screamed about the climate-change-themed "Carbon Sink" sculpture at UW? They fulminated long and loud enough to force the UW administration to spirit away the sculpture in the dead of night, burning parts of it in the UW power plant. 

So now the South Carolina Legislature wants to slash the budgets of the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina Upstate for forcing their delicate southern flowers to read LGBTQ-themed books. Conservatives in the S.C. Legislature discovered that College of Charleston and USC students were reading gay literature. Ironic in that a South Carolina-based press published Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio -- that's Hub City in Spartanburg. I hate to bring this up but publishing is one of the "creative economy" enterprises that has helped Spartanburg show up on all those "best places to live" lists the past few years. Maybe that's what really upset the legislators. After all, literacy and creative economy and smart growth are all part of the liberal conspiracy to ruin America. Next thing you know, the U.N. will be making all of us read gay books, forcing us to live in Hobbit homes, confiscating our cars and making us ride fat-tire bicycles.

This comes from Friday's The Guardian:
The College of Charleston ran into trouble after assigning Alison Bechdel's acclaimed Fun Home to students; the graphic novel details Bechdel's coming out as a lesbian as a teenager, and her relationship with her closeted father. The University of South Carolina Upstate, meanwhile, was teaching a collection of radio stories about being gay, Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio. Earlier this year, funding to the two schools of almost $70,000 (£40,000) was threatened because of the choices, described as pornographic and "forcing an agenda on teenagers" by their opponents; the issue has been under debate in the state senate this week, and authors have been coming together to stand up for LGBTQ rights.
I know a bit about the conservative South Carolina Legislature. I was a student at USC in Columbia for two years, 1969-1971. Those were stormy years.Vietnam and Kent State and riots in the streets. The Lege met right down the street from USC and its members fumed when long-haired hippies marched on the storied campus, its horseshoe once the site of a field hospital for troops wounded defending the city from that devil Sherman. Big Daddy Gov sent in the National Guard and state goons to put an end to it, busting a few heads in the process. It wasn't the National Guard who did the dirty work. They were mostly our age and not nearly as angry about protesters as the billy-club-swinging white state cops who were the age of our fathers. Heavy-handed techniques against students are not new to South Carolina or any other state. We saw some prime examples during the Occupy Movement.

So what to do? Hell, it's graduation time! Who has time to pay attention to anal-retentive legislators when there are parties to attend and beer to drink? And we still don't have a job!

Some of the most outspoken and radical people I ever met were in Columbia during that earlier trying time. You have to remember that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were southerners, as were Jimmy Carter and Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Not to mention all of those wonderful southern writers such as Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews and Lee Smith and all the rest. Richard Ford has been outspoken in his opposition to this latest travesty (witness the graphic above).

Go to Writers Speaking Out Loud to voice your discontent. Remember that many outspoken peace and civil rights and free speech and freedom to read advocates walked before you. Speak out like you mean it!

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