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BUZZ: Blog "shames" SC legislator for cutting college money over gay-themed books

02/23/2014 5:57 PM

02/23/2014 8:47 PM

A group of self-identified College of Charleston students, alumni and employees have put "on notice" the S.C. legislator behind last week's vote to cut funding to two state colleges for having students read gay-themed books.

The group -- members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and their allies -- started a Tumblr blog criticizing the budget cuts called " Homo Sweet Homo: Gay Faces, Gay Places ," playing on a former state tourism slogan, "Smiling faces, beautiful places."

The blog was the idea of South Carolina members of Southerners on New Ground, a regional social justice advocacy organization based in Atlanta, whose members are largely made up of members of the LGBTQ community who wanted to provide a forum for people to respond to the cuts, said Jenna Lyles, a 2010 College and Charleston alum and the advocacy organization's state field organizer.

Last week, the House Ways and Means committee -- at the request of Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville -- voted to cut nearly $70,000 from the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina Upstate for books they had students read.

According to the program website, students at USC Upstate are assigned the book in entry-level English courses. At the College of Charleston, students and faculty are encouraged to read the selection, which is incorporated into courses and activities on campus, according to the college's website.

Lawmakers voted to withdraw funds based on amounts the schools spent on required-reading books last year -- $17,000 by USC Upstate for "Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio" and $52,000 by the College of Charleston for "Fun Home."

After the controversy, both universities are seeking wider input on reading selections.

Smith said he wanted to make a point to the colleges for requiring reading that some of his constituents complained was offensive.

But Lyles, a Greenville native and Charleston resident, said the budget cuts were an effort "to silence gay voices in South Carolina. So we thought the appropriate response would be to amplify those voices."

The blog says the lost state support is not the only issue in the debate.

"This is about creating hostile environments for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff members in our publicly-funded academic institutions. It's about using legislative power to silence the voices" and make the lives of LGBTQ South Carolinians invisible. "But we will not be silenced. Rep. Garry Smith, we are putting you on notice."

A "submit" button allows anyone to post to the blog. About 60 posts, as of Sunday night, show people holding signs with messages that say, for example:

• "I'm a CofC grad and SC educator. My students have queer families. How dare you try to silence their experiences."
• "Our lives, our stories. Shame on you Garry Smith for trying to silence us."
• "Dear Garry, please evolve(!!!)"

Asked to respond to the posters' comments, Smith said he would be happy to discuss his position directly with anyone critical of him, but would not have that debate in the media.

Lyles said she and others wanted to make sure their reactions were heard inside and outside the state.

"So often when things like this happen in South Carolina, the rest of the nation looks at us and (says), 'Ha, ha, ha,' or 'South Carolina is doing these ridiculous things again,'" Lyles said. "We are from South Carolina, and living here and fighting back."

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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