Lesbian Panic on South Carolina College Campuses

Fear of the Lavender Menace has resulted in the closing of the Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate (USC Upstate).

The Center’s closing is seen as an act of retaliation on the part of university officials kowtowing to state politicians who protested the Center’s booking of Leigh Hendrix’s satirical play “How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less.”

South Carolina’s conservative politicians decried the play as an explicit act of “recruiting” innocent college students to the dark, lurid lifestyle of sapphism. A statement released by the administration of USC Upstate claimed that the performance, which was scheduled as a part of the Bodies of Knowledge Symposium, proved too much of a “distraction” on campus: “The controversy surrounding this performance has become a distraction to the educational mission of USC Upstate and the overall purpose of the Bodies of Knowledge Symposium. As a result, we have canceled this segment of the symposium.”

State Representative Mike Fair, a Republican Christian Fundamentalist, was more blunt:  “It’s just not normal and then you glorify … same-sex orientation,” he told Greenville TV station WYFF. “That’s not an explanation of ‘I was born this way.’ That’s recruiting.”

His colleague in the state senate, Rep. Kevin Bryant, remarked that the intended performance was a sign that the Center had too much money. “If they’ve got extra money sitting around to promote perversion, obviously they’ve got more money than they really need.” Even though the Center’s annual allocated budget was $500, Bryant’s sentiment clearly precipitated the Center’s closing.

South Carolina’s sexism and homophobia has pervaded its higher learning environments, with the attack on academic freedom all too apparent. USC Upstate is not the only institution to face bigoted wrath. Last month, the College of Charleston had $52,000 cut from its budget for offering Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as a recommended—not required—reading for matriculating students, as a part of its College Reads! Program.

In a comment that is nothing short of irony and complete projection, a state representative called the recommended reading “totalitarianism”: “It’s not academic freedom—it’s academic totalitarianism.”

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