USC Upstate facing more cuts over gay-themed programming

ccope@thestate.comApril 4, 2014 

Selling The Capitol

The South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.,

BRUCE SMITH — AP

— The University of South Carolina Upstate could have its budget cut again for another gay-themed program on the Spartanburg campus.

The school is hosting a symposium on gay topics that at one point included a lecture titled, “How to be a lesbian in 10 days or less.” The event comes a month after the House of Representatives cut $17,142 from USC Upstate’s budget for assigning freshmen to read an essay book on coming out gay in the South.

At least three state senators said Friday they are upset about USC Upstate’s gay-themed programming. They vow to not only keep the House’s cut but also slash more from the school’s budget next year.

“If they’ve got extra money sitting around to promote perversion, obviously they’ve got more money than they really need,” said S.C. Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican who sits on the Senate budget-writing committee.

The symposium was planned a year ago – long before lawmakers took aim at the 5,400-student school, said Clif Flynn, associate vice chancellor academic affairs for the university.

The conference cost about $11,500, said Reid Toth, the school’s department chairwoman of sociology, criminal justice, and women’s studies. About $5,000 was paid by the school and $6,500 was covered by private grants, she said.

The House funding cut, approved last month, was based on the cost of the reading program that assigned “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio” in the fall. The House also trimmed $52,000 from the College of Charleston for assigning freshmen another gay-themed book “Fun Home.”

Senators are weighing the state’s $24 billion budget now.

“I think it’s time that these institutions be held accountable,” Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, said.

Bright, who is running for the U.S. senate, said many people in Spartanburg are upset about the activities on the USC Upstate campus.

“Higher education is becoming more about indoctrination and less about education,” he said.

Bryant and Bright were among 21 Senate and House members who voted against USC board members running unopposed during trustees elections this week because the Columbia flagship campus oversees Upstate.

Sen. State Mike Fair, who also sits on the Senate’s finance committee, said he voted against the trustees “to protest questionable campus activities at USC Upstate and the main campus.”

The Greenville Republican said he felt uncomfortable raising the issue because he loves the university, his alma mater where he was a starting quarterback and a trustee.

“It’s an absolute insult to the moms and dads who are paying for their children’s education at USC Upstate,” Fair said.

USC Upstate’s Bodies of Knowledge Symposium, slated for next Thursday and Friday, focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other sexual orientation issues and has stirred a typically conservative section of the state.

The college – which hosts a national conference on child abuse and an undergraduate research symposium highlighting students’ work – did not intend to stir controversy with the symposium, school officials said.

The theme is “an optional opportunity (for students) to explore some of these topics which they probably would not get to in a class or in another type of organized workshop,” Toth said.

Much of the outcry was over the planned performance by Leigh Hendrix of “How to be a lesbian in 10 days or less,” a comical story about coming out as gay.

But some people took it as an instructive performance, instead of a comedy, USC Upstate spokeswoman Tammy Whaley said.

The event was cut after community and political uproar.

Sen. John Courson, chairman of the higher education senate finance subcommittee, said his panel has not discussed cutting funds to schools because of gay-themed programs. The Richland Republican said he had a problem with censorship on campuses.

“I don’t think we should as a legislature micromanage exactly what is being taught and discussed in college,” he said.

If legislators start picking on one group, they could move onto others, said Ryan Wilson, director of S.C. Equality, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians.

“These legislators say they are concerned about taxpayer dollars,” Wilson said. “What about my taxpayer dollars?”

Reach Cope at (803-771-8657.)

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