Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Monday, January 9, 2012

License to Bully and Don’t Say Gay bills place TN students in double jeopardy

Over the last week, Tennessee Equality Project has called attention to the dangers of the “License to Bully” bill (SB0760/HB1123) that religious conservatives have championed as a legislative priority.  This legislation creates a loophole in current education policy that gives students permission to intimidate, harass and bully their classmates when expressing “religious, philosophical, or political views.”

The Family Action Council of Tennessee wants to issue
a "License to Bully" to student in Tennessee.
This dangerous proposal would give license to students to fully express intolerant biases based on race, religious belief, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Making matters even worse, the “License to Bully” bill would prohibit schools from adding socioeconomic status, academic status, disability, physical appearance, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list of enumerated protections in bullying policy. SB0760/HB1123 would also prohibit the formation of student-led, teacher-advised, and parent-supported Gay Straight Alliances in schools - a strategy with a proven record for reducing anti-LGBT bullying in schools.

Since the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned in the spring of 2011, TEP has highlighted the current inadequacies of school bullying policy. Students and parents at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, TN tried to organize a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) to confront the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning students. School administrators and religious leaders in their community opposed this initiative and even led to charges of assault of a student leader of the proposed GSA by the school’s principal.

In December, Tennesseans learned of the tragic suicide of Jacob Rogers in Ashland City, a student who endured years of anti-gay bullying at Cheatham County Central High School. While many factors contributed to this incident, the absence of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression among the enumerated protections in the school’s bullying policy at the time was a contributing risk factor according to reports from friends and family.

While the push to enable bullying with policy loopholes in Tennessee is troubling enough, Tennessee Equality Project learned over the weekend that the House sponsor of last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has requested that the house version of the bill be put on notice in the House General Subcommittee on Education (a version of the bill passed the Senate last year). As originally proposed, the HB0229/SB0049 states that “ no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”

Imagine this scenario if the “License to Bully” and “Don’t Say Gay” bills become law in Tennessee: A student expressing the teaching of his religion repeatedly tells a classmate perceived to be gay that he is a sodomite and that he faces hell and eternal damnation. Not only would such bullying be allowed by the “License to Bully” loophole, but the target of such attacks could not seek help from teachers forbidden from discussing the subject of gay people by the “Don’t Say Gay” proposal. Standing alone, these bills create an unsafe situation for students in schools. Together, these bills place students in double jeopardy. Students with an anti-gay bias would be free and encouraged to bully LGBTQ students, and teachers and other school staff would be prohibited from speaking about the issue.

The "Don't Say Gay" bill will violate free
speech protection in schools.
In an October 26, 2010 letter to school officials nationwide, the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education reminded that “Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and genderbased harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.” The “License to Bully” and “Don’t Say Gay” bills may promote the crossing of that line in Tennessee schools.

It's time for Tennesseans to stop using children as pawns in the pursuit of social, religious and political agendas. The time and effort of policymakers would be better focused on ways to ensure that Tennessee students receive an education free from bullying, harassment and intimidation. We need to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors for students in Tennessee schools. Parents, teachers, students and other advocates must contact their lawmakers in state government to voice their opposition to the “License to Bully” and “Don’t Say Gay” bills. The health and welfare of Tennessee children depend on it.

License to Bully Petition addressed to the House and Senate Education Committees:

Don’t Say Gay Bill Petition to the House Subcommittee on Education:

For more information contact:
Jonathan Cole | Tennessee Equality Project | | 615-669-8057

Tennessee Equality Project advances and protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in Tennessee. 

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