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The South Carolina House Ways and Means committee voted 13-10 last week to cut the College of Charleston’s budget by $52,000, the amount the school spent last summer on The College Reads!, an annual campus-wide initiative designed to promote discussion of “challenging” books among faculty, staff and students. The choice of the gay-themed Fun Home drew fire in July from a conservative Christian group that labeled the graphic novel as “pornographic,” a charge that spilled over into last week’s House debate.
Fun Home details Bechdel’s childhood with her closeted gay father, his apparent suicide and her own coming out as a lesbian.
“I’m very grateful to the people who taught my book at the College of Charleston. It was brave of them to do that given the conservative pressures they’re apparently under,” the cartoonist said in a statement provided by her publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to Publishers Weekly. “I made a visit to the school last fall for which they also took some flak, but to their great credit they didn’t back down. It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book — a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.”
Although the funding could be restored March 10 when the full House considers the budget, the pressure from legislators and other sources already may have created a chilling effect.
In a statement posted on The College Reads! website, the program’s committee reveals that while it selected David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers on Dec. 9 for this summer’s edition, informed the provost, signed a contract for the author to appear on campus and ordered the books, “Unlike in previous years, the book has not been announced — presumably at the direction of the Board of Trustees — and a stop payment was issued leaving in limbo the 4,000 books in our possession. The committee has received no explanation for this action.”
Legislators also targeted the University of South Carolina Upstate, which saw $17,142 trimmed from its budget for selecting Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, about South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show.