Why The Don’t Say Gay Bill For Tennessee Schools Will Harm Children

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?

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution license, with thanks to Cotton Jeni.


Sue ( Snow Owl) Clayton

Adults (including teachers) need to deal with their OWN fears which often come from the fears of THEIR parents. If a child has questions, no matter what the subject, isn't the teacher's job to TEACH. Some children are unable to speak with parents about certain issues. Face your fears teachers, or forever run from them.

Earnest Reeves
Earnest Reeves8 years ago

were here were queer get over it already!!

susan twentyeight
Past Member 8 years ago

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." -Ronald Jones

"To each according to their needs, from each according to their ability" -Karl Marx

"The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" -Mao

no wonder they call them "Red" states..

Melissa W.
Melissa W8 years ago

"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?"
No, these people should be taught about in the schools, but in my opinion, the teacher doesn't have to mention these people were gay or bi-sexual. I don't know about others, but I don't want my child's teacher telling her that certain important figures were gay. To me, that might make her think she had to be gay to accomplish feats such as these people did. She is only 9 years old, and she already knows what gay means because other children talk about it at school. I don't mind her knowing these things because she will be exposed to this for the rest of her life and she needs to know about things going on in the world today. I just don't agree with teachers pointing out that certain important figures were gay. And no, I'm not a homophobe. I have many gay friends and they are great people. I just don't agree with the teachers teaching this, because I feel like it's my job to tell my daughter these things, not the teachers.

Justine L.
Justine L8 years ago

What is this Stacy man thinking? He's so homophobic, he's not just afraid of gay people, he's even afraid of the word gay!(And teachers with weapons in the classroom? c'mon!) This is offensive & insensitive to LGBT people, as well as anyone who knows someone who is. What about those kids who are being raised by gay parents? The teen years are vital for developing a teen's identity, an identity in which gender & sexuality play a big role. How can kids & teens even begin to understand who they are & develop a sense of self if the topic of sexuality (except heterosexuality) "isn't allowed"? In school, kids & teens are supposed to learn about the gay rights movment, & other such topics in history. This bill would make it impossible for them to learn about these important things. Should a child's education about history & other subjects suffer just because of a homophobic state representitive? The author is right about the high suicide rate in LGBT teens. Is Stacy Campfield trying to make this already high suicide rate even higher?!

Sir Walkadelic F.
Sir Walk F8 years ago

Interesting Logic, Ronald.

How, exactly, are gay people violating the "rights of others"?

Can you explain?

suzanne s.
suzanne s8 years ago

and what are the kids being raised by gay parents supposed to say? you're turning them into second class citizens.

John D'Ambra
John D'Ambra8 years ago

Ronald Jones personifies the hate mongering "keep THEM away from me" lack of mentality of yesterday's Southerners. Regretable; but then again so is the sponser of the bill

Ronald Jones
Past Member 8 years ago

The homosexual lifestyle should not be taught or expressed within the public education system. Some might think that the rights of gays are stripped away. They do not think about the rights of the majority that could be endangered for the rights of the few. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
I have known people who are gay and it did not bother me as long as they did not try to expose me to their lifestyle or influence me. Their private lives were of no concern to me. However, when their actions try to influence my surroundings, then they are overstepping my rights not to be exposed to those influences.

Shawn S.
Shawn S8 years ago

This is just another glaring example of the religious right, in our Government that should not be present in a democaratic society. It is the same dangerous, and oppressive ideas that gave birth to the Nazi Regime of WWII. It is people like Mr. Campfield who have no place to be the voice of the many, because he only represents the radical few.
We must once again strengthen the separation of church and state it is the glue that holds this democracy together, and this glue is being melted away by legislation that will only breed further fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding of people of different cultures, beliefs, and sexual orientation. Those are the halmarks of a crumbling and defunct democratic society. If this legislation is passed, I fear that it will only be the begining of the end for our american way of life.