A measure to outlaw any mention of LGBT people in Tennessee schools up to the eighth grade was put forward by Knoxville State Rep. Stacy Campfield this week in order to stop the “complex issue” confusing Tennessee “children that are already in a difficult part of life”. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been deferred, and a report has been requested on the issue for a March 2010 deadline. But is the bill homophobic?
To put this in context, Campfield had submitted a total of 29 bills to this legislative session which began on February the 12th. One of which was meant to allow teachers to have firearms in the classroom. During a previous legislative session, the Knoxville State Rep. also submitted a bill to strip funding from the Congressional Black Caucus because the caucus, well, was for black people and wouldn’t admit Mr. Campfield when he attempted to join. He subsequently compared the Caucus to the Ku Klux Clan.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill put forward by State Rep. Stacy Campfield (who may or may not be trying to distance himself from his rather un-masculine name), is claimed to be a “neutral” bill, or as Campfield puts it, “It doesn’t say we are going to preach against it. We are not going to preach for it,” to which he added that he did not think that the bill was in the slightest bit homophobic. “Homophobic means you’re afraid of something… but teaching transgenderism to middle school students … I don’t think that’s the road we should go down. I think that’s what parents should be doing.”
Nevertheless, the exact wording of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is as follows:
“[To] prohibit the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8.”
But contrary to Campfield’s assertions, the bill is homophobic in that it acts like a sin of omission: it lobotomizes the LGBT part of American culture and world history, throws it away and denies that it exists. It lies to children, and in that lie reinforces the notion that heterosexuality is the only normative and standard, meaning that, by the time children are old enough to be taught about the broader range of sexual and gender identities, differences that, whether people care to admit it or not, have helped to shape this world as we know it, it will be introduced to them as a deviation from the norm, an alien subculture far removed from their lives and society as they know it. One might go as far to say, that this bill is a protean of gay apartheid in action.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, aimed at an eighth grade level, would effectively silence teachers from giving information on sexuality, even in the most abstract of ways. What the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would do is put LGBT people in the shadows, as creatures to be molded by opinions, not facts, that come from outside of the school environment, opinions which may not be an accurate or neutral representation of sexuality or LGBT topics at all. And we know how Mr. Campfield likes to be “neutral”.
But it’s school children that will ultimately loose out. How can they truly appreciate a Tennessee Williams play without knowing the character of the playwright, nor the fragile undertones behind stories like The Glass Menagerie, or look to narratives like The Color Purple which weaves race and creed into a rich tapestry of experience, sexual identity and self awakening, to lead to a glorious story of triumph over adversity both in terms of LGBT issues and for the black civil rights movement as well? Will young teenagers even be allowed to read such material under the “Don’t Say Gay” bill?
Or, how about Alexander the Great, Socrates, Walt Whitman, Pope Julius III, Andy Warhol, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Marie Antoinette, Leonardo Da Vinci, all lesbian, gay or bisexual (or rumored therein) – are they to be struck from the educations of Tennessee’s school children as well, or bled dry of some of their vital characteristics and watered down to suit Stacy Campfield’s idea of what is appropriate? Of course there are issues of context, but this bill is uncompromising in its stance: to thoroughly erase anything besides heterosexuality for early adolescents.
Also, what about students who will have no reference board for their emerging sexuality because of this “Don’t Say Gay” bill? You may remember that earlier this month we reported on shocking statistics of LGBT suicide in teens. Silence on this issue will only serve to push transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual students to the fringes of school society, further alienating them and possibly pushing them to the brink.
Finally, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would have Stacey Campfield and the other Republican representatives like him telling schools what it is they can teach. Today, it’s don’t say gay. What words, and indeed people, will their Nineteen Eighty-Four style approach see fit to delete off our lips tomorrow?