House lawmakers this week advanced the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, moving it forward from a House Education committee on a 8-7 vote.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and others argued that outside groups and some teachers slip those conversations in, and the bill serves as an accountability reminder.
“I have two children — in the third- and fourth-grade — and don’t want them to be exposed to things I don’t agree with,” Hensley said. “… Even though the state board disallows this now, I’m afraid it does happen, and sex education is talked about in a way that it is acceptable.”
Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who voted for the bill, said he’s seen documentation that outside groups are entering classrooms at the invitation of principals and teachers and not staying within the curriculum guidelines.
“And they should,” he said after the vote.
Schools caught in violation of the state’s sex education policies can have state money withheld, and teachers face a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail, according to state law. The bill passed the Senate last year.
Supporters of the bill have not so far been able to produce proof that the bill is needed, they’ve simply made accusations that teachers are flouting the rules.
Interestingly, not all Republican lawmakers voted in favor, highlighting that there are still deep concerns about the bill and specifically over whether it will actually serve to inadvertently introduce sex education to K-8 in a state that has vigorously opposed such moves.
The legislation would originally have banned all mention of sexuality in K-8. The amended bill as passed by the Senate last year aims to reduce that reach, confining teachers to talking about sexuality only in terms of “natural human reproduction science.”
However, the bill has offered no explanation of what that should mean. Does it, for instance, ban mention of IVF treatment? And does it effectively allow for sex education for K-8 students?
Due to these concerns, the bill had been held back with another measure requiring so-called “family life education” with an abstinence only bent being a focus, but now it seems the bill’s chief supporter, Rep. Hensley, wants one last chance at making “Don’t Say Gay” the law of the land before the end of the session.
As for the Republican governor Bill Haslam, he has spoken out three times to remind lawmakers they should be concentrating on issues like the economy.
Critics have said the legislation, even in its modified form, will have a chilling effect on how teachers deal with anti-LGBT bullying, that it is entirely unnecessary given that Tennessee already has a strict no sex education before highschool policy, and that it is simply about pushing a conservative religious agenda.
The bill now goes to a calendar committee before a full floor vote.
Tennessee of course recently passed a bill to allow teachers to instruct on Creationism as an alternative to scientific fact and advanced a bill describing hand-holding as gateway sexual activity.