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Anti-Porn Group Challenges Gay Graphic Novel

When Phd candidate Jennilyn Merton put Dykes to Watch Out For creator Allison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic on her course syllabus, she hoped to challenge and enrich her students.

 

“I felt like the story of a young girl and her father exploring the idea of coming out as gay from two very different generational perspectives was an important topic right now,” said Merton, a candidate in the English Department’s American Studies Program. “It’s important politically and has always been important.”

While the novel – which centers on Bechdel’s coming out process and her life with her closeted gay father – was a hit with most of the students in the English 2600:  Critical Introduction to English Literary Forms class, Merton said one student objected to the book’s content.

As per the university’s religious accommodation policy, which allows students to take an alternate assignment, Merton said she offered to let the student read another book.

The U developed the policy in 2004 as part of a settlement with former acting student Christina Axson-Flynn who sued the school in 2000 for being made to take the Lord’s name in vain while performing a scene for class.

Although the student accepted the alternate assignment, a local anti-pornography group soon got word of the story. In mid-March No More Pornography put out a press release calling for the school to ban Fun Home from its curriculum on grounds that the book “depicts accounts of women having oral sex with other women, graphic nudity, and the open account a young woman masturbating.”

No More Pornography’s Web site is currently offline, but a Google search engine cache of the press release also revealed that the group accused the university of “creating porn addicts with state tax dollars instead of educating its' [sic] students.”

“The issue is exposing people to pornography,” No More Pornography member Thomas Alvord told KSL News on March 31. “It’s like they’re turning their back and pretending graphics, depictions of oral sex, are not an issue.”

Merton said the depictions of sex were not pornographic, but integral parts of the book’s story.
“It’s a classic coming of age story, and sexuality is part of that story,” she said. “It has been in [works by writers] Chopin, and Joyce and Nabokov, and any number of novels from the dawn of history. And we approached it very respectfully. I don’t think [sexuality] should be something we hide from as part of the human experience. It also helps us understand the ongoing violence that happens around people’s sexuality. If we can’t talk about that, then I don’t think we can be responsible citizens.”

English Department chair Vincent Pecora could not be reached for comment by press time. However, he had previously told KSL that he supported Merton and the book. As of now, the book has not been removed from the curriculum.

Although No More Pornography is still petitioning to have the book banned, Merton said she did not anticipate a legal challenge to the material because the school already has an accommodation policy in place.

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