Tennessee’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill is likely dead for this session after the bill’s House sponsor decided to pull the legislation on Sunday before it could proceed to a vote.
The decision by Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, means that SB49 will die with the adjournment of the 107th General Assembly. Legislative leaders hope that will be today.
Hensley said the officials of the Department of Education and the state Board of Education have pledged to send a letter to all Tennessee schools “telling them they cannot teach this subject in grades kindergarten through eight.”
“With that assurance and the opposition of some people who didn’t want to vote on it, I’ve decided simply not to bring it up,” said Hensley.
The legislation would originally have banned all mention of sexuality except heterosexuality in K-8. The legislation was widely condemned for what was perceived as its overt attack on LGBT kids.
The amended bill as passed by the Senate last year was supposed to quiet fears by reducing the reach of the bill to confine teachers to talking about sexuality only in terms of “natural human reproduction science,” thus supposedly making it sexual orientation neutral.
However, the bill offered no explanation of what “natural human reproduction science” should mean. There was also a question of whether the legislation effectively allowed for sex education for K-8 students.
For this reason, as well as the persistent and vocal pressure from groups including the Care2 community, the amended bill proved unpopular even among Republican legislators who said it risked legalizing sex education for young kids, something Tennessee’s lawmakers are completely against.
It is also worth noting that the “assurance” given to Rep. Joey Hensley by the Education Board that the subject of homosexuality won’t be taught in schools is superfluous if only for the fact that the Board has repeatedly stated, since the bill was first proposed by Senator Stacey Campfield, that homosexuality isn’t “taught” in schools because of the strict “family-orientated” curriculum.
In short, there was never a problem to begin with.
Still, Rep. Hensley has bemoaned that the “Don’t Say Gay” moniker given the bill wasn’t really what the bill was about — even though the bill’s author Senator Campfield had repeatedly stated that banning talk of homosexuality and gender variance in schools was the intent of his bill.
Hensley has warned, however, that the bill may be filed again next session if there is evidence of “alternative lifestyles” being taught.
Given that Tennessee’s Legislature didn’t seem to need evidence for filling the bill this time around, a “Don’t Say Gay” bill being filed next session looks likely if not inevitable.
Tennessee has been in the spotlight a lot of late for passing a bill to allow teachers to instruct on Creationism as an alternative to scientific fact, and having advanced a bill describing hand-holding as gateway sexual activity.
Missouri is currently considering an even stricter version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.