Legislators in South Carolina have proposed a bill that would reduce the funding of two state colleges because they had assigned material to students that dealt with homosexual themes. These proposals have arisen in response to letters of concern from parents of students at these universities, who have expressed their disapproval of material they deem offensive and contrary to their “feelings and beliefs.” The budget cuts have already passed the Higher Education subcommittee as well as the House Ways and Means Committee. If the bill passes the House, state Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk, it will mark a dangerous step backwards in the battle to eliminate literary censorship and homophobic laws.
What the legislators failed to consider is that so much of the world’s best literature has ties to homosexuality. There is a long history of censorship in U.S. schools, especially in cases involving openness toward sexuality — both gay and straight. The list of banned books is lengthy and includes modern and familiar classics including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Leaves of Grass,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Color Purple.” None of these titles are still prohibited from being taught in classrooms, but a future generation of novels may lose the accessibility they deserve if legislators in South Carolina pass this bill.
Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Plato, Allen Ginsberg and James Baldwin, among others, are gay, thought to be gay or focus heavily on gay themes in their work. Their works have left an indelible mark on the literary landscape — a journalism class cannot be taught without Capote nor a philosophy class without Plato — so to withhold funding to universities that advocate for the inclusion of such novels, essays and poems in their curriculum negatively affects the students seeking a holistic education.
The breadth of great literature that contains gay themes is immense. To censor work with homosexual subjects is an injustice and counterproductive to the academic aspirations of these universities. Furthermore, the criteria that make materials too obscene for college students are very unclear. The line is murky and there is no objective definition that can bolster any justification for these budget cuts. This potential law follows an unsettling surge in controversial anti-LGBT legislation. Most recently, the Arizona legislature passed SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay customers, a bill Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed. Haley, the South Carolina House and state Senate should follow Brewer’s lead.