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, February 20, 2012

State lawmakers lack credibility on anti-gay legislation


(Monday, Feb. 20, 2012) Last Wednesday, the House Education Subcommittee approved an amended version of HB0229, a bill historically called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which amends curriculum guidelines for grades K-8. The original version of the bill stated that “no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”

Instead of explicitly prohibiting discussion of homosexuality, the amended version of HB0229 exclusively limits “any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school” to something called “natural human reproduction science.”

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) arrived late to Wednesday’s hearing with assurances that the amended bill does not “prohibit the use of the word gay, change the state’s anti-bullying statute, or prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing issues of sexuality with a student.” He made the case that HB0229, as amended, clarifies current curriculum practice and is consistent with Title 49 as written.

But those assurances don’t agree with statements made by the Senate sponsor of the same bill (SB0049) before and after it was amended.

Sen. Stacey Campfield claimed last April that he had proof that teachers were talking about homosexuality in the schools, even though the State Board of Education stated there was no evidence it was happening.  When asked directly, Sen. Campfield could not and would not provide specific instances of teachers talking about homosexuality in grades K-8.  He made vague references to one alleged incident by a teacher, but could not even say what grade this teacher taught or what subject.

When asked about the amended SB0049 after it passed last May, Sen. Campfield admitted that many of his colleagues were uncomfortable with the language. "There's more than one way to skin a cat," he said and went on to say, "I got what I wanted." He said the language is appropriate because "homosexuals don't naturally reproduce," and he said it's necessary because the state's curriculum is unclear on what can be taught.

With the explicit reference to sexual orientation removed, H.G. Stovall, Board member of the Tennessee Equality Project said “Rep. Dunn wants Tennesseans to forget that Sen. Campfield’s original intent is preserved in the amended bill.  It’s a clever ploy that has become all too familiar in the 107th Tennessee General Assembly.”

Last year, the state government enacted HB600 which set current state law as the ceiling for employment discrimination for all local governments. The sponsor and supporters of the bill claimed the new state law merely provided a uniform set of statewide standards for workplace protections. HB600 made no explicit reference to sexual orientation or gender identity. But HB600 was introduced in direct response to a Nashville ordinance protecting the employees of local government contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Don’t say gay” became a defining label for Sen. Campfield’s anti-gay bill many years ago and has evolved into an adopted motto and tactic of the state legislature. The House Education Committee has a chance to redefine the anti-LGBT reputation of state government.

Tennessee Equality Project calls on the House Education Committee to memorialize the words of Rep. Dunn by adding a new amendment to HB0229. Amend the bill to explicitly state that:

Nothing in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-1005 shall prohibit any person in public elementary, junior high or high schools from confronting bullying, intimidation or harassment of students based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The above amendment will send a clear message that state lawmakers care for all students in Tennessee. Without such an amendment, Rep. Dunn’s assurances mean nothing. In its current form, passage of HB0229  will mean House leadership has turned a deaf ear toward those young students calling for help who endure years of anti-gay bullying. If HB0229 advances in its current form, the House Education Committee will confirm its animus toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Tennessee.

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

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