A gay and lesbian-themed graphic novel on an elite university reading list for some incoming college freshmen is generating pushback among Christian students who feel the material is “pornographic.”
“Fun Home,” a best-selling story that features a girl coming out as a lesbian and discovering her father was gay, is among several books selected by Duke University “to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class.”
Instead, the racy reading material -- which is recommended, but not required -- seems to have stirred up controversy.
“The nature of ‘Fun Home’ means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature"
- Jeffrey Wubbenhorst
“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Freshman Brian Grasso posted to a Class of 2019 Facebook page in late July that was cited by the school’s student newspaper, The Chronicle. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind. It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”
That the book doesn’t merely express gay and lesbian issues in words, but rather depicts imagery of acts that some may find objectionable is at the root of the protest among students at the Durham, N.C., school.
“The nature of ‘Fun Home’ means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature,” freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
Other students replied to the Facebook thread urging Grasso and others like him to keep an open mind, according to The Chronicle.
The Duke controversy is just the latest “Fun Home” debate.
In 2014, the South Carolina House of Representatives’ budget-writing committee docked the College of Charleston the cost of its summer reading program – $52,000 – due to concerns over “Fun Home,” which has become a musical as its popularity has spread.
“It goes beyond the pale of academic debate,” Republican state legislator Garry Smith told The Post and Courier at the time. “It graphically shows lesbian acts.”
The book’s author, Alison Bechdel, decried the drama surrounding her work.
“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,” she told Publisher’s Weekly in 2014.
When the Duke selection committee chose the book for the Common Experience program during the spring, it was aware of the controversy that had dogged the book.
“It has the potential to start many arguments and conversations, which, in my opinion, is an integral component of a liberal arts education,” Ibanca Anand, a student member of the selection committee, told The Chronicle in April.
“During orientation welcome week activities, students will discuss the book in small groups and as a larger community,” a college announcement said in April.
Other books recommended by the selection committee include, “All the Light We Cannot See,” about a blind French girl and a German boy during World War II; “It Happened on the Way to War,” about a Marine who “waged peace while fighting war”; “Red,” a play about pop art; “The Righteous Mind,” a psychological look at “why good people are divided by politics and religion”; and “The Shallows,” which focuses on how the Internet is changing users.