In a daring move endorsing LGBT equality, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley Thursday upheld a state budgetary measure requiring two state-funded schools to make reparations for having assigned LGBT-themed works. The measure demands that the schools spend a total of $70,000, the amount that had previously been dedicated to these LGBT works, on teaching our nation’s founding documents instead.
The measure, championed by Sen. Larry Grooms, arose from the perception that the schools in question, University of South Carolina Upstate and College of Charleston, were not active enough in promoting awareness of LGBT issues among their students. Grooms and fellow supporters of the measure hope that the mandatory curriculum change will rectify that lapse by educating students about the fundamental constitutional right to marriage equality, not to mention the right to freedom of speech on LGBT issues.
While Grooms praised the schools’ previous curriculum choices as “pornography,” voiced concerns that these works, Alison Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home and Ed Madden’s anthology Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, are inadequate when it comes to truly motivating students to support LGBT rights.
College of Charleston faculty spokesperson Michael Halbert agrees. “Facing our shortcomings in this area has been chastening to the college,” Halbert stated. “After all, reading Bechdel might be a fun way of encouraging students to open their minds to new ideas, but it won’t really teach them how to claim their rights. And students were even allowed to switch to a different section of the course if they didn’t want to read the book. But with this measure requiring ‘the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals,’ every student will gain a full understanding of the American ideal of equal legal rights and protections for every citizen, including LGBT people.”
Sheila Gorman, a law professor at USC-Upstate, welcomes the measure. She claimed that it is “embarrassing” that so few USC-Upstate students have been educated on the Constitution and the history of its interpretation in sufficient detail to understand how it supports LGBT rights. “Most students don’t even know that the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia defined the right to marry as one of the fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution, or that withholding that right from same-sex couples violates both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment,” Gorman lamented.
Gorman noted that a 2006 amendment to the state constitution bans same-sex marriage in South Carolina, but increased student awareness about how this ban conflicts with freedoms protected by the Constitution could lead the state to reconsider its legislation. “Backwards-thinking organizations like the National Coalition Against Censorship need to get with the times instead of objecting to this immensely beneficial measure as if it were some kind of unwarranted government infringement of academic liberty,” she added.
The budgetary measure is grounded in a 90-year-old South Carolina law requiring schools to teach the country’s founding documents and to ensure that each student swears loyalty to the United States before being granted a degree. Gorman acknowledged that adherence to this law may prove “tricky” at USC-Upstate, where the student population includes citizens of 51 countries. “But the gains in terms of LGBT advocacy and the promotion of free speech far outweigh the inconvenience of working out a couple kinks like that,” Gorman was swift to clarify.