Tennessee’s highly criticized “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban mention of sexuality other than in terms of reproduction for K-8 was this week advanced by the Tennessee House Education subcommittee, with one Democratic lawmaker supporting the bill as a matter of life, liberty and his right to “indoctrinate” and “train” his children.
The bill passed on a voice vote but, like the Senate version passed last year, it was amended so that discussion of sexuality is barred except for talking about “natural human reproduction science.” This, supporters claim, erases the perceived gag rule on discussing gay identity and thus makes the bill more palatable by sidestepping the so-called “hysteria” the bill caused last year.
The amendment was offered by the bill’s original sponsor in the House, Rep. Bill Dunn.
“What this amendment does is keep us in line with current curriculum,” Dunn told colleagues. “This bill, if amended, does not prohibit the use of the word ‘gay,’ it does not change the anti-bullying statute, and it does not prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing the issues of sexuality with a student.”
Opponents contend that this does not in fact change the anti-gay nature of the bill.
Indeed, Senator Stacey Campfield, the bill’s chief proponent, is quoted as saying that the Senate amendment to the bill still bans mention of homosexuality because same-sex couples can’t reproduce.
However, perhaps the most interesting comment during the 30 minute hearing on the bill came from Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, who said he supports the bill’s aims because, he claims, it is his right to indoctrinate his children as he sees fit.
“The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness,” said state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, arguing to keep the subject of homosexuality out of elementary school classrooms. “Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and to indoctrinate them as I see fit.”
DeBerry reportedly went on to say that, lest his remarks be labelled homophobic, “We put “phobia” on the end of words, and then we automatically demonize someone who has an opposing view. What this bill does is it says everybody has the right to train their children.”
Only one panel member, Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, opposed the measure, saying, “I really don’t know the purpose in bringing this legislation again. It looks to me like a solution looking for a problem.”
This would be in line with a notion the Tennessee board of education has repeatedly expressed when it has testified that such legislation isn’t necessary due to the sate’s existing “family orientated” curriculum which places an emphasis on the “traditional” family unit.
Senate Bill 49 and counterpart measure House Bill 229 sponsored by state Senator Stacey Campfield and (formerly sponsored) by Representative Bill Dunn respectively, both Republicans from Knoxville, was in its original form designed to prohibit “the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8.”
The Senate passed the bill in a 20 to 10 vote in May of last year with the aforementioned amendment relating to “natural human reproductive science.”
The House bill now goes to a full Education Committee vote as soon as next week, and conceivably could be passed before the end of the legislative session, though the exact level of support among House legislators remains unclear.
Governor Haslam has previously said that he doesn’t want the state’s Legislature focusing on this issue. It remains to be seen, however, whether Haslam would veto the legislation if it were to reach his desk.