A piece of legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been introduced into the Tennessee General Assembly once again. The bill’s aim is to prevent educators teaching about or discussing homosexuality in elementary and middle schools.
Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 229 sponsored by State Senator Stacey Campfield and Representative Bill Dunn respectively, both Republicans from Knoxville, prohibits “the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8.”
The legislation has won praise from some groups, however pro-gay groups have said that the bill could be dangerous.
Those who support the bill say it’s about having age appropriate curriculum.
“You’re looking at legislation that is going to make sure that when you are talking about sexuality with students that it is age appropriate,” said Matthew Parsons, a father of seven children and founder of the group “Something Better.”
He says he’s in favor of the proposed bill that avoids talking about homosexuality to kids so young.
“If we’re talking about homosexuality, we are talking about specific acts that are going to be unhealthy for anybody to engage in outside of marriage.
At least one group says that’s anti-gay – and calls it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“The Don’t Say Gay bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach,” said Ben Byers with the Tennessee Equality Project.
“It limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom,” Byers said. “It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”
The Tennessee Board of Education, which has been consulted on the bill, has repeatedly said that there is absolutely no need for this legislation, yet Mr. Campfield feels that the bill deserves another chance.
In 2009, Campfield said that sexuality is a “complex issue” that he didn’t want confusing Tennessee children “that are already in a difficult part of life.”
He said, “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.”
What’s interesting, other than Mr. Campfield clearly not understanding that being transgender is nothing to do with sexuality, is that Campfield is still pretending that this bill is neutral, ignoring of course that the bill will only allow teachers to talk about heterosexuality which is a heteronormative bias right out of the gate.
Of course children should be given age-appropriate information — no one would argue against that — but blanket characterizing anything that is not heterosexual in content as inappropriate is very clearly anti-gay. It also smacks of hypocrisy because it is a blatant attempt at enforcing a narrow agenda through government overreach where it would seem no actual problem even exists.
Perhaps what worries most about this bill is the impact it could have on combating bullying with regards to the perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity of students.
It could become virtually impossible for schools to adequately address issues surrounding anti-LGBT bullying if they are encumbered to the extent that they can not discuss anything other than heterosexuality.
While, yes, they may be able to challenge bullying behavior itself, they will not be able to address the underlying cause of that bullying, most likely meaning that the issue will persist.
I would also question whether schools under this policy would be able to give adequate support to victims of such bullying who, whether LGBT or not, will have a need to talk about these issues in order to deal with the harassment they have faced.
It remains to be seen whether this legislation will meet with more success than it has in the past. Currently, the bills have been referred to the General Assembly’s subcommittees on education.
For more information on this and other LGBT-related issues in Tennessee, visit the Tennessee Equality Project.