If South Carolina is not the most backward state in the nation, it’s tied for first with some of its red state brethren, like say, Arkansas. The latest insult to the intelligence of any civil human being is the punitive symbolic book burning of a publication titled “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio.” The local newspaper describes it as a publication comprised of a collection of essays and poems from Southern gay residents.
The book was chosen by a panel of educators on the Upstate campus of the University of South Carolina. It is required reading for all incoming university freshmen. Wait for it! Wait for it! KERBOOM!!! The homophobic right-wing went predictably nuts. And in their corner, eager to please even the most radical of his constituents, stood state Representative Garry (yes, 2 r’s) Smith. Riding to the rescue of Neanderthal parents, whose kids were trapped in a literary web of Queerville.
Smith, just turning 57, is an active and enthusiastic member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and serves on its Communications and Technology Task Force. In his homophobic wisdom he decided to emulate symbolically, the actual historical book-burnings that have been all the rage since antiquity right up to the present day.
Via a line item in the upcoming budget, Smith is proposing to cut $17,142 in funding to the University, the exact cost of the books. The College of Charleston is about to meet the same fate. Smith and like-minded colleagues want to punish this fine institution’s theory that we’re all created equal, by withholding $52,000 in funding. According to the Post and Courier, this brouhaha revolves around a committee assigning a book as Summer Reading. “Fun Home” is the best-selling and highly acclaimed memoir written by Alison Bechdel, a lesbian. It includes passages on Alison coming to terms with her sexuality. Smith Characterized the book as “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”
Holy catfish! A college kid being exposed to a book about sex? A prominent majority (around 60%) of the student population has already done the deed on campus multiple times according to assorted sources.
The College of Charleston caved in somewhat in agreeing to change the process for choosing next year’s selection.
Smith represents District 27 in Greenville County. He lives in Simpsonville. In addition to his legislative duties, he runs a consultancy, Nin Tai Enterprises, out of his home. Nin Tai or nintai is Japanese (he probably picked it up in a Karate class) for patience and perseverance. Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as a continued effort to achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition. And you can bet that the South Carolina homophobic Republican legislative community, with Smith as their mentor, will Nin Tai this issue to its line item conclusion.
Not surprisingly, Smith has been President of the Simpsonville Rotary Club and held the same position in the Simpsonville United Methodist Men’s Ministry. You remember the Methodist church? That’s the same outfit that defrocked one of their ministers for officiating at the marriage of his gay son and partner. It’s not the sinner, it’s the sin, silly!
I decided an extreme gay-basher like Garry Smith, at the very least, deserved a phone call from Dennis S. He actually answered his phone and, to his credit, didn’t rush my call. The first thing I did was tell him how disgusting his proposed book-burning action was to me. He insisted it wasn’t book burning, symbolic or otherwise. He was just responding to the will of his constituents.
In response to my many inquires, he allowed as to how he had no gay family members, but he did have gay neighbors. “Ever have them over for dinner? No. Ever read the book, Out Loud? No! Ever have a heart to heart talk with a homosexual about what it’s like to be gay in South Carolina? No!” I asked him if he was a member of ALEC and he fessed up that he was. Is he ever! He’s even on the Communications and Technology Task Force. I proceeded to give him an ear-full of rhetoric about the ALEC hold on red state legislatures. He had no comment.
I really pressured him on what he had against the gay community. He insisted nothing and went back to the mantra of simply serving his constituency. He also tried to deflect his rancid actions by pointing out wondrous pieces of legislation he had introduced. On examination, I couldn’t find a single piece of legislation he had sponsored all by his lonesome. Even if it was the second coming of the Civil Rights Act, whenever you see a right-winger throw something on the floor of the general assembly of a moderate nature, it’s just to deflect attention away from his or her basic extremism. And you don’t get more extreme than punishing Colleges and Universities for choosing books on subject matter you find objectionable. I also wanted to know if a book had been chosen that was extremely violent, would he recommend fiscal censure. “No.”
I thought the most telling answer I heard from Smith was in response to a question about Amazon (which has a major presence in the state) shipping numerous books with gay content and themes. “Is it your intention to go through their stock and tell Amazon you’re going to take away some of their tax breaks and incentive money for daring to deal in a trade that involves books that may encourage the homosexual lifestyle?” His answer was as predictable as a Kardashian story on E-News. “NO!!!”
I kept asking him why he hated gays and what was it about gays that he found so repugnant. He repeatedly denied hating gays and ducked the issue of repugnance. I finally told him it was most likely the practice of gay sodomy. I informed him that statistically, the act is performed by well over 40% of heterosexual males with over 30% of heterosexual females. There was no rebuttal.
I will say the guy was willing to sit on the phone and take it. Problem is that just when you think the Republicans have hit their nadir of hate and bigotry, along comes another vomitous example topping all that has gone before. How many steps are we away from an actual modern-day American bonfire consuming gay-themed books? Zero! Its already been done. The best-known incident was probably the Kansas City burning in 1993 by a Fundamentalist preacher of Nancy Garden’s coming of age, teenage love for another girl novel, “Annie on My Mind” on the steps of the Kansas City School Board building. He threw in “Heather Has Two Mommies” for good homophobic measure.
And how far are the haters willing to go? Would Smith consider legislation to chain the doors of movie theaters showing the likes of Brokeback Mountain?
Sure he would.
In keeping with Representative Smith’s indifference to forbidding violent reading matter, along comes the Boone, North Carolina county board of education. The board voted Thursday to let local HIGH SCHOOL students continue to read “The House of Spirits.” Included in its contents are passages depicting rape and torture.
Gay-themed books? Never! Rape and torture? Yep! Remember, you’re still in the Deep South.