Share & Connect
Tennessee State Senate passed a bill last week that would prohibit teachers and students in public schools from discussing homosexuality. Children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade will not be able to discuss or ask questions about being gay. There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for the imposed silence. Supporters state that the measure is designed to be a guideline for teachers dealing with a controversial topic. But, there are plenty of other controversial topics that are not off limits to discussion.
Opponents correctly point out that legislation is unfair to children of gay parents. It could also lead to more bullying. Bullying of gay students has become a nationwide epidemic more noticed after a rash of teen suicides last year was linked to bullying. Opponents refer to the bill as the “Don’t say gay bill.”
The legislation’s original version stated that no elementary or middle schools will “provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.” Republican Senate sponsor Stacey Campfield of Knoxville said some of his colleagues were uncomfortable with that language. The wording of the bill was amended to say that any instruction or materials at a public elementary or middle school would be limited to age-appropriate lessons about the science of human reproduction.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Campfield said after the vote. “I got what I wanted.”
Campfield believes the language is still barring classrooms from discussing gay relationships because “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce,” and he said it’s necessary because the state’s curriculum is unclear on what can be taught.
The legislation will probably not be taken up by the state House before lawmakers adjourn this spring. Campfield said he would push it forward in 2012 when the General Assembly reconvenes for the second year of the session. If the bill passed, Tennessee would be the first state to enact such legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states have had similar proposals which have been defeated. A Louisiana law forbids the use of sexually explicit materials depicting homosexuality in sex education classes.
Critics of the bill point out that the new wording may cause unintended consequences. Sen. Roy Herron, D- Dresden, said it “may inadvertently prevent the teaching of ethics, morality and abstinence.”
Stephen Smith, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, also said he’s unaware of homosexuality being taught anywhere in the state. He said there is nothing in the state’s curriculum standards that allows students to be taught about homosexuality.