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Lee: The power of literature

BY ASHLEY LEE | FEBRUARY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Literature, among other platforms, allows for one to understand and appreciate the intersections that thrive in social-justice movements and American institutions.

I spend much of my time reading. To read is to grow conscious, and to grow conscious is to be aware. Reading has allowed me to not only understand how our society operates but to consider marginalized voices and perspectives that may not support the dominant narrative. 

South Carolina legislators have proposed budget cuts for the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate as punishment for incorporating LGBT-theme books into the required curriculum for incoming students.

My question is, why? 

Americans have forged their identities in a nation that praises straight and cisgender voices. To these lawmakers, to incorporate alternative perspectives into the dominant narrative poses a threat to the status quo.

America takes pride in being a multifaceted nation, yet when there’s an opportunity to be inclusive, clearly there can be hesitation.

While one may be inclined to suggest that things are getting better for the LGBT community, there’s more to LGBT rights than marriage equality and representation in popular culture. 

Transphobia prevails in our criminal-justice system and modeling industry. There’s an incessant and uncalled for expectation for bisexual individuals to somehow choose what “side” they’re on. Lesbians are fetishized by straight men, while gay men are expected to conceal their sexuality. 

And yet, there is an annoying persistence that “heterophobia” and “cisphobia” are the real problems facing society. This month, Piers Morgan claimed to be a victim of  “cisphobia” in the aftermath of a CNN interview with transgender-woman-rights activist Janet Mock. 

It’s problematic that those are considered phobias, partly because it ignores both the historic and present heterosexual and cisgender power structure that dehumanizes the LGBT community. It also minimizes the array of LGBT experiences living under a system of oppression.

Quite frankly, the inconsistency in society is unsettling. There’s a want to recognize other identities for the sake of diversity, but when it comes to sharing the pen or recognizing the modern-day difficulties faced by these groups, there’s a problem. 

Therein lies the value of a diverse college curriculum.

The merit of higher education is being exposed to alternative ideologies and communicate with people of different backgrounds. Academia is meant to stretch the mind — to question, develop, and alter personal beliefs. I applaud educators who are unapologetically dedicated to fostering critical thinking in the classroom.

No school should be punished for including the voices of underrepresented groups.

The legislators aiming to punish the South Carolina schools fear losing influence in a society that already values their identity. Therefore, they advance their prejudices and narrow mindedness in the campus culture.

By discouraging the inclusion of LGBT-themed literature in the schools’ curriculum, the legislators continue to encourage the notion that LGBT voices are insignificant and unworthy. This only perpetuates anti-LGBT biases. It also limits the development of the mind. Students need grow conscious so changes can be made. 

To dismantle America’s heteronormative, transphobic culture and heterosexist practices, we have to challenge the ideologies and institutional injustices that dehumanize, discriminate, and belittle those who identify as LGBT. 

It will require a cultural revolution. We will have to actively unpack the negative perceptions we’ve been socialized to believe. Legislation alone will not correct this.


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