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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm angry

I'm angry today.

I'm agonizing over yet another suicide of a young gay teen in Tennessee. It's the second loss in as many months. Phillip died because he could not escape the endless bullying from his peers. He died because he lived in a world where being gay made him a target. He died scared, hopeless and alone. 

Will Batts is the Executive Director of the
Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center.
I feel a rage building inside me. This is not the world we want for our kids. This is not an environment where LGBTQ kids can prosper and succeed. You know what it's like. Those of you who grew up gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, know what it's like to be afraid, to be bullied, to be ridiculed, to feel alone. Some of us had it worse than others. But most of us have felt that knot in the pit of our stomachs when someone finds out we're not straight. We all remember the anxiety the first time we said to another person "I have something to tell you" or "I have a secret." Many of us remember feeling afraid for our safety. Some of us have survived damaging abuse. I can only imagine the pain that led Phillip and too many others to want an end to their suffering. But WE CANNOT let that be the end of the story. We CANNOT let suicide be the way that our kids find relief. 

All of us who work for LGBTQ equality in Tennessee want this to end. We want a better world for our kids and our friends. But this is not about us today. This is not a request to donate to MGLCC. This is a request for your voice and your presence. 

We have a legislature that actively targets the LGBTQ community. We have a legislature that wants us to be hidden and silent and ostracized. We have a legislature that wants to give religious exemptions to bullies. We have a legislature that wants teachers prohibited from even acknowledging our existence. These horrific laws must be stopped. Their passage means a perpetuation of the dangerous environment where our kids find no relief or refuge. 

YOU have an opportunity to make a difference. See...part of the problem is that we don't have enough folks raising their voices and shouting that this must end. I know it can be scary to take a stand. Doing so might threaten our jobs, our position in the community, or simply make us uncomfortable. But somewhere in Tennessee, in a small town of 2,000 people, there is a little kid who needs each one of us to stand up to our legislators and say "STOP! Stop targeting our community. Stop making it easier to hurt our kids. Stop denying us equal protection. Stop attacking our right to live in peace!" 

Tennessee Equality Project coordinates a day for us to speak one-on-one to our legislators. This is the 8th year for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. The date is Tuesday, March 13, in Nashville. I am asking each one of you to show up that day and respectfully demand that our legislature stop targeting our community. We have people in our city, and in small towns all over this state, who are looking to us to lead. They are praying for some kind of relief. They need our help. We won't be able to stop this overnight. But neither can we wait for a better time to fight. The attacks on our community must end.


Will Batts
Executive Director

Reprinted with permission.

TEP responds to tragedy in Gordonsville

As TEP leaders, members and supporters grieve the loss of  Phillip Parker in Gordonsville, Tennessee Equality Project is taking steps to respond to the tragedy. Here's what we are doing:

TEP joins the family and friends of
Phillip Parker in grieving a senseless loss. 
  1. TEP has contacted Smith County School Superintendent Roger Lewis and District Principals to advocate for more teacher training and revision of school anti-bullying policy.  We are offering TEP Foundation's LGBT diversity and cultural competency training.  We've asked the administration to work with their school board to  expand the list of differentiating characteristics in their anti-bullying policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. We've shared research with the administration that demonstrates how taking these steps can lead to improving educational and health outcomes for all students. 
  2. TEP is engaging the media to make sure the public is aware of the issue and the connection to bad state legislation such as the "License to Bully" bill and the "Don't Say G_y" bill.  
  3. TEP Upper Cumberland Committee is holding a Candlelight Vigil in Cookeville on Thursday at 8 PM in solidarity with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.  
  4. TEP is actively fighting negative state legislation through professional lobbying strategy, generating thousands of email contacts with state legislators and the Governor, and putting together events at the Legislature to show that Tennesseans don't want discriminatory bills.  
You too can take positive steps to raise awareness about the importance of providing safe schools in your community. Here are some concrete actions you can take:
  1. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper outlining the hazards of the "License to Bully" bill and the "Don't Say G_y" bill.
  2. Make a Youtube video with your webcam or flipcam that shows your support for LGBTQ students in Tennessee. Share that video with Tennessee lawmakers and members of you local school board.  Post it on Tennessee Equality Project's Facebook Fan Page to reach a wider audience.
  3. Mark your calendar for the 8th Annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 13, 2012 and plan to talk with your State Senator and Representative in Nashville about the need to confront anti-LGBT bullying in Tennessee schools.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gordonsville student endured years of anti-gay bullying before ending his life

Late Friday night, Tennessee Equality Project began hearing reports that an 8th grader in Gordonsville in Smith County, Tennessee had completed suicide after enduring years of anti-gay bullying. Ironically, the news arrived as members of TEP's board attended the first Bully-Free Tennessee Conference in neighboring Putnam County with educators, parents and other safe school advocates.

Local news confirmed on Saturday that Phillip Parker was the 8th grader who had ended his life.

TEP Board members Jonathan Cole and
H.G. Stovall paid respects to Phillip Parker
outside his school last Sunday.
While attending Saturday's conference, H.G. Stovall and I met a former teacher who knew Phillip while he attended Gordonsville Elementary School.  Tears flowed as she told us that Philip had endured years of anti-gay bullying at the school and that bullying in general at Gordonsville Elementary School often goes unaddressed by faculty and staff. She knew of several students who had to transfer to other schools to escape the harassment. This educator also knew Phillip had endured anti-gay preaching from the pulpit of his church. 

After the conference, H.G. and I visited Gordonsville to pay our respects to Phillip. On Sunday, we laid a vase of purple flowers at a shrine outside the entrance of Gordonsville High School. Members of the community brought cards, flowers and teddy bears. Most were quiet and tearful in their grief. We were able to speak to one of Phillip's teachers. Sadly, she confirmed the same stories we had heard the day before about Philip's experience at school and at church. She recalled learning that his pastor had recently told him to "pray the devil out him, so he could be straight." His teacher also remembered that beneath his inner turmoil Philip was always smiling and would often tell his peers how beautiful they were.

We've learned from Phillip's teacher that the school invited a grief counselor to speak to faculty about information to share with the kids about the Trevor Project and other outlets for LGBT kids to seek help. She said: "I hope if nothing else, the students of our school will see how much words can hurt and how much healing can and should happen when compassion and kindness are shown to others."

While these resources are helpful, we must do more than provide crisis hotline numbers to Tennessee students who feel isolated and alone. Bullying is a problem allowed by adults. In December, we learned after the suicide of Jacob Rogers that the anti-bullying policy of Cheatham County School District did not include sexual orientation or gender identity or expression among the enumerated protections. Smith County's school district policy lacks the same protections.

A school should be a place where students feel safe and protected by the teachers and staff charged with their care. Phillip clearly had teachers who tried to watch out for him. But the educators who knew Phillip shared that not all teachers were willing to confront the anti-gay bullying that he and other students have endured in the school system.

A crisis hotline number is not a plan to address bullying. A crisis hotline number does nothing to address bullying. Smith County and other school districts in Tennessee must adopt strong anti-bullying policies with enumerated protections for students who are the most vulnerable to bullying. They must also consider data-driven tracking systems to empower administrators and teachers with the tools they need to provide a safe environment. Local school boards and the Tennessee General Assembly must address the bias that exists in our schools. Tennessee students are depending on the adults to do the right thing to protect them. Will they?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What are the limits of natural human reproduction science?

Will an amendment to HB0229
prohibit abstinence education?
At a hearing later today, the State House Subcommittee on Education will consider an amendment to HB0229, otherwise known as the "Don't Say G_y" bill. The amendment would match language approved by the  Tennessee Senate last year in SB0049:
Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science. The provisions of this subdivision shall also apply to a group or organization that provides instruction in natural human reproduction science in public elementary or middle schools.
No one is really sure what limiting instruction and materials to "natural human reproduction science" really means. Google it. You won't find an accepted definition for this phrase: only news reports on legislation. The amendment raises questions about the potential impact of the legislation on curriculum standards for grades K-8. We've attempted to answer some of them.

1. Will teachers be allowed to discuss the ethics of human cloning or assign a debate on it in a social studies or essay writing unit? May the first "test-tube baby" be discussed in a history class? Will it be permitted to assign students essays or debates on so-called artificial reproductive technology or infertility treatments? 
No. In-vitro fertilization, cloning, adoption, frozen embryos, and other non-natural reproductive methods used to create families would fall outside the scope of “natural human reproductive science.” Teachers would be forbidden from discussing these topics. Reference materials on these subjects in school libraries would have to be removed 
2. Will it be permitted to assign a science fiction book on human cloning in class or for such a book to be on the reading list for a class? 
No. At least twenty four (24) science fiction books and stories about human cloning would have to be removed from library shelves.. Students would not be allowed to give books reports on these books. 
3. Will teachers and counselors or DCS/DHS personnel be allowed to discuss and give out material on rape and sexual abuse? 
Probably not. Discussions about resources available to victims of rape, such as referrals to health facilities that offer such methods of reproduction may be off limits. 
4. May a teacher discuss adoption?
Probably not. Adoption is not natural human reproduction for adoptive parents. Adoption is a legal process pursued by adoptive parents that is sometimes facilitated by the Department of Children Services and other child welfare agencies. Fiction and non-fiction books on adoption would have to be removed from school libraries. 
5. Is it permitted for a teacher to discuss abstinence? 
Probably not. Abstinence is the opposite of “natural human reproduction.” Educational materials and programs which include abstinence as a means of avoiding pregnancy or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases would be prohibited. 
6. May a teacher discuss the causes of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic? 
Age-appropriate discussions about HIV or sexually transmitted diseases that include mention of sexual activities that fall outside natural human reproduction science (oral or anal sex) would be prohibited. Students could be led to believe that certain sexual activities pose no risk to them. 
- Jonathan Cole

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Police the Potty bill flushed?

Has the "Police the Potty" bill
been safely flushed?
In the span of one day, the "Police the Potty" bill (SB2282/HB2279) was filed by State Representative Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) and Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and then withdrawn by the Senate sponsor. Earlier in the day, I described how the proposed bill would criminalize the use of restrooms by  transgender people, "parents accompanying their children into a restroom, custodial staff responsible for cleaning restrooms, [and] attendants or family members assisting elderly or disabled people in the restroom."

When asked to defend his House bill, Rep. Floyd stated that he would "stomp a mudhole" in any transgender woman who would trouble his wife or daughters:
I believe if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there — I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there — I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry. . . . We cannot continue to let these people dominate how society acts and reacts. Now if somebody thinks he’s a woman and he’s a man and wants to try on women’s clothes, let them him take them into the men’s bathroom or dressing room. Don’t ask me to adjust to their perverted way of thinking and put my family at risk. I’m just sick and tired the way this thing’s been going.
The Urban Dictionary defines "stomp a mudhole" as something so graphic and horrifying that I cannot bring myself to include it here, except by link. To read such violent intent voiced by a State Representative raises serious doubts about the fitness of Rep. Floyd to serve his district and the State of Tennessee.

Within hours of Rep. Floyd's statement, the Senate sponsor of the "Police the Potty" bill withdrew his version of the bill saying:
I understand Rep. Floyd’s passion about the issue, but we have more pressing issues before us that we need to focus our attention on and we don’t need to get sidetracked.
I hope that Senator Watson will take greater care in reviewing the legislation that he is asked to sponsor in the future.

Tennessee Equality Project and many others moved swiftly to attack the viciousness of this bill. While I am grateful for the support of local, state and national advocates who spoke against the Police the Potty bill, we are not yet out of the woods.

The filing deadline for new bills in this session of the legislature is January 26, 2012. There are 32 other senators who may agree to sponsor this bill in the State Senate. Tennessee Equality Project will not rest from its watch until that deadline has passed. In the meantime, be vigilant fellow Tennesseans. The "Police the Potty" bill remains a threat to civil liberties until we can be certain that no one steps forward to sponsor this bill in the Senate.

- Jonathan Cole 

Tennessee lawmakers introduce "Police the Potty" bill

Gotta pee? I'll need to see some ID.
Senator Bo Watson and Rep. Richard Floyd of the Tennessee General Assembly want to know what's going on in the stall next to you in the bathroom. They filed a bill yesterday that seeks to police restrooms and dressing rooms in public buildings. The bill clearly targets transgender people born in the state of Tennessee.

The bill states "where a restroom or dressing room in a public building is designated for use by members of one particular sex, only members of that particular sex shall be permitted to use that restroom or dressing room."

SB2282/HB2279 defines sex as "the designation of an individual person as male or female as indicated on the individual’s birth certificate." Tennessee law already prohibits anyone born in the state from amending their gender on their birth certificate making this law one of the most vicious attack bills ever filed against transgender people in state government.

Violators of the proposed law would be considered guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and fined $50. 

As proposed, the "Police the Potty" bill will harm other Tennesseans too. While this bill clearly targets transgender people born in Tennessee, it could make criminals of parents accompanying their children into a restroom, custodial staff responsible for cleaning restrooms, attendants or family members assisting elderly or disabled people in the restroom. What will it cost the State of Tennessee to hire extra male or female custodial staff to clean public restrooms or security staff to check people's identification before entering a restroom?

With unemployment rates higher than the national average and poor educational outcomes in the State of Tennessee, it's alarming to see lawmakers champion legislation that will only bring unwanted embarrassment to our state. I suppose it's easier for some lawmakers to manufacture a problem, propose an invasive big government "solution", and target a small minority than to actually solve real problems in Tennessee.

- Jonathan Cole

Monday, January 9, 2012

FACT playing fast and loose with the facts...again

David Fowler of the Family Action Council is counting on a twisted interpretation of two cases, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District and Zemecnik v. Indian Prairie School District, to support his claim that anti-bullying laws infringe on the First Amendment rights of anti-gay students. Neither case refers to civil discourse or classroom discussions. Civil discourse about differences in religion, philosophy, or politics is already protected in the schools under federal law. The wording of this amendment is broad and vague, and creates confusion about the differences between bullying and civil discourse.

The language in this amendment is not a reflection of federal law as claimed, nor is it supported by the case law David Fowler cited. Tinker was a case about students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. In Tinker, the Court distinguished between passive, non-aggressive expressions of opinions and disruptive behavior:
“The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There is here no evidence whatever of petitioners' interference, actual or nascent, with the schools' work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case does not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.” (Tinker, 393 U. S. 503, 508 (1969))

Bullying is not silent, or passive. Bullying is aggressive and carries intent to intimidate, harass and/or harm another student. Bullying infringes on the rights of another student. Bullying intrudes upon the work of the schools, creating a hostile environment that impedes the ability of the victim to learn in a safe environment.

Zamecnik was about t-shirts being worn by students that said “Be Happy, Not Gay”. The 7th Circuit did not find that the wearing of these t-shirts posed a risk of a substantial disruption of the educational environment. Like Tinker, this case does not support Mr. Fowler’s position either, although the distinction is harder to find without an example:

Let’s suppose my son wears a t-shirt to school that says “Libertarians like RON PAUL Worship that Atheist Whore of Babylon, AYN RAND” on the back. The shirt has this picture on the front:

Technically, this is an expression of religious, philosophical, and political speech. Legally, he can wear it every day to school, despite the fact that many of the kids in his class are admitted Libertarians and come from Libertarian families. What my son cannot do is corner a kid at his locker, in the lunchroom, or in the classroom and say to him “Ayn Rand was an atheist, and you and your parents are going to burn in hell for being Libertarians, you sinner!” That would be horrid, ugly, and bullying, and for the record, I wouldn't let my kid wear a shirt like this, nor speak to another student in this manner without getting into nine kinds of trouble from his father and me.

Why is wearing the t-shirt okay and the hypothetical statement isn’t? While the t-shirt may make various people disgusted or angry, it is a general statement of a position and displayed to everyone equally. The statement, however, is directed at a particular student and intended to cause harm or intimidate. The t-shirt is unlikely to create such a hostile educational environment that other students would be unable to learn. The statements created a specific harm to a specific student, and create a hostile educational environment for the intended victim.

David Fowler also made a claim recently that this amendment does protect students from a hostile educational environment. Actually, this amendment limits the definition of a hostile educational environment by inserting this: “"Creating a hostile educational environment" shall not be construed to include discomfort and unpleasantness that can accompany the expression of a viewpoint or belief that is unpopular, not shared by other students, or not shared by teachers or school officials.” The term “discomfort and unpleasantness” is disturbing. This language discourages victims from reporting the bullying in the early stages. If a student is being made to feel uncomfortable by bullying directed at them by anyone, they should feel safe in reporting this to school administration so the issue can be addressed before it gets more serious. This type of language in the bill is just another example of minimizing the harm that occurs when students are harassed by other students. In effect, this clause (combined with the limiting language on what constitutes bullying earlier in the bill) tells students they should put up with this behavior until their bullies threaten them with physical harm or harm to their property.

Bullying should never get that far. Ultimately, when a teacher or administrator addresses bullying, they are promoting a teachable moment in civil discourse. Addressing bullying is an opportunity to discuss empathy, respect, and what is acceptable behavior in a civil society. Teaching children how to discuss differences of opinion without resorting to hateful, harmful words or behavior is a worthwhile educational goal per se, that benefits society as a whole by encouraging civil discourse. The biggest and most disturbing thing about David Fowler’s arguments in support of HB 1153 is that there is little to no mention of the victim. The focus is decidedly on protecting the person who chooses to utter words intended to harm another…to protect the bully, not the victim. Nothing in the current Anti-Bullying law restricts students from civil discourse on political, religious or philosophical issues.

Despite the Family Action Council’s protests, they are not trying to protect our kids, just those who would bully them.

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. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

State Representative claims objectivity on LGBT issues

In an earlier post about the "License to Bully" and "Don't Say Gay" bills, I shared disturbing correspondence from one of our State House Representatives, John Ragan (District 33 - Oak Ridge). In his correspondence, Ragan showed little concern about the anti-gay bullying of a teenager in Tennessee who later took his own life.

In May of 2011, Rep. Ragan shared his views with a constituent regarding the advance of the "Don't Say Gay" bill (SB0049/HB0229) in the State Senate at that time. In his response to a constituent he claims his view is objective and then compares lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families with drug addicts, prostitutes, and criminals. Rep. Ragan's bias against LGBT people and their families is even more apparent than in his most recent message to TEP, but you be the judge. 

- Jonathan Cole

Email reply to constituent from Rep. John Ragan (May 25, 2011):

Dear [Name withheld by request],

Thank you for your input on the legislation recently passed in the Senate concerning education for Tennessee students.  It is obvious from the length of your communication that you feel passionately about its topic.  
However, it is good to remember that, sometimes, passion can cloud objectivity.

To begin an objective discussion, please read the bill (re-printed below) as amended:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE: SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-6-1005, is amended by adding the following as new subsection (c) and by relettering the existing subsection (c) accordingly:
(1) The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home. Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.
(2) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science. The provisions of this subdivision shall also apply to a group or organization that provides instruction in natural human reproduction science in public elementary or middle schools.

As you can see, the bill is about education.  In particular, it is about elementary and middle school, public education.

Principally, in elementary school, education should be about mastering the most basic of academic disciplines such as reading, writing and mathematics.  Acquiring foundational skills during these crucial years of a child’s education is far more important than someone’s social or political agenda.  For example, numerous studies have shown that children who cannot read adequately by the end of the third grade are negatively impacted the remainder of their academic career, in deed, the rest of their lives.

Likewise, basic science education, at all academic levels, is about the systematic study of the fundamental principles of natural phenomena not social or political schema.  With the possible exceptions of medicine, psychology or sociology, which are not elementary or middle school, in-depth, study areas, science does not address “lifestyle choices.”  Consequently, it is certainly logical to limit the topic as specified in the bill for those grade levels in favor of devoting limited classroom time to more critical, curriculum areas.

I am especially appreciative of your recognition of the principles and values upon which our founders established our nation.  However, again, it is worth noting that passion for a particular issue may cause one to “filter” out relevant information that is contrary to a particular perspective.  For example, consider the following quotes from our founders concerning those principles you previously referenced. 

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. –  John Adams
Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness. – George Washington
It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible. – George Washington
It is better to tolerate that rare instance of a parent’s refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings by a forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of his father.  – Thomas Jefferson

As to your objection concerning the labeling of homosexual behavior as “unnatural,” consider the following argument:

Darwinian selection, i.e., survival of the fittest:  Homosexual individuals are incapable of reproduction if they are exclusively homosexual. Any species or sub-species that does not reproduce tends to become extinct.  The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that the "natural" destiny for exclusively homosexual behavior practitioners over time is extinction.  It is "unnatural" for any species or sub-species to intentionally and knowingly try to become extinct.

If these individuals do not practice exclusively homosexual activity, then, by definition, they can choose not to be homosexual… and the issue is entirely defined as a voluntary, behavioral choice.

Therefore, any sanctions, legal restrictions, or societal disapproval accorded to homosexual behavior practitioners is completely a matter of choice on their part.  If the homosexual behavior practitioner chooses not to engage in that particular behavior, he or she avoids any sanctions, legal restrictions, or societal disapproval associated with it.  

Relative to your question:  “Shouldn't the discussion be more of when and in what way it is appropriate to teach homosexuality instead of how to ban discussion of homosexuality?”  

The bill to which you are objecting does exactly that.  By restricting classroom teaching and materials to scientific examination of normal human reproduction, the bill specifies the way that is appropriate is in the home by the parents, not in a classroom by a public school teacher.  By specifying elementary and middle school, the bill identifies the "when" as some point after that (as far as public schooling is concerned).

Relative to your comment:  "...that there is never a reason to discriminate, silently or loudly, against any group of people.” 

People legally and freely, even ethically, discriminate all of the time…  They discriminate on what city in which to live, what job to take, what friends to choose, what church to join, against people who engage in certain behaviors (crime), etc.  What you are objecting to is not discrimination, per sae, but to illegal discrimination. 

However, it is not illegal discrimination to disapprove of a group of people who engage in abuse of certain drugs.  One can easily discern the negative impacts of such behavior and refuse to allow these individuals certain privileges such as piloting an aircraft, etc. without bothering to examine, even, one, individually.  Similarly, one can legally choose to discriminate against felons or child abusers or allowing them to be school teachers without ever having met one. 

Relative to your comment:  “Should we show our children that America values the quality of life a person lives based upon the right of choice? And that nothing can keep a person from following their dreams - not race, religion, disability or sexuality?”  

None of the things you cited are based upon behavior, or “the right of choice” except religion.  Under the Fourtheenth Amendment and follow-on legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religious creed, or color.  However, the definition of sex in these laws is based upon anatomy.

Relative to your paragraph:  “Homosexuality is … a choice… It is a freedom that should not be denied or silenced because some of the population disagree based on religion?”

As I posited in earlier paragraphs, you are absolutely correct that homosexual behavior is a choice.  However, so is prostitution.  Am I to infer from your espoused position that prostitution is also “…a freedom that should not be denied or silenced because some of the population disagree based on religion?”  What about extra marital, consensual sexual relations between a fourteen-year-old (with permission of a parent) and a thirty-year-old?  Is this also a choice?  Is this, also, “…a freedom that should not be denied or silenced…”?

Relative to your comment:  “Homosexuals are …asking that homosexuality not be silently labeled as unnatural, unclean or bad…”  

"Unnatural?"  Recall the extinction argument?  How could exclusively homosexual behavior be anything else but "unnatural?"  Is voluntarily and intentionally exposing yourself and your "partner(s)" to the following list of problems not “unclean and/or bad?”  

A partial list of the statistics documenting the negative impacts of the homosexual behavior under discussion:  U.S. health regulations currently prohibit men who have sex with men (homosexual practitioners - aka "gays") from donating blood.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration studies categorically confirm that if homosexual practitioners were permitted to give blood, the general population would be placed at risk.

According to the FDA: "[homosexual practitioner or 'gay' men] have an HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first-time blood donors and 8,000 times higher than repeat blood donors."

The FDA further warns: "[homosexual practitioner or 'gay' men] also have an increased risk of having other infections that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion. For example, infection with the Hepatitis B virus is about 5-6 times more common, and Hepatitis C virus infections are about 2 times more common in "homosexual practitioners than in the general population."

A 2007 CDC study found that, although "gay" men comprise only 1-to-2 percent of the population, they account for an epidemic 64 percent of all syphilis cases.

Relative to your comment:  "They are asking that the fact that they are a part of our society be recognized."  

This group is recognized.  However, the counter question is why should anyone be recognized for what is, or, ostensibly, should be, a private behavior that no one else need know about?  The second portion of any question concerning recognition is why should any acknowledgement be accorded out of proportion to their percentage of the population (approximately 2%)?  For example, 24 hours of TV programing times 2% is less than 1 hour.  How many “gay characters” as part of the story line are there in any given day of TV programing?  Before you answer that, consider that there are 2 entire networks on cable that are marketed as “gay” programing for the entire day.  It would appear that homosexual behavior practitioners are more than adequately recognized.

Relative to your comment:  “They are asking that the fact that their choices have an impact upon our society - positive or negative -just the same as a heterosexual persons choices have an impact in either a positive or negative way be recognized.”  

Their impact of their choices on our society was just cited, i.e., 64% of all syphilis cases, etc.  The assessment of that impact could be expanded to include their proportion of the suicides or of the pedophiles or any number of other impacts.  I invite you to look up these “impacts.”  I guarantee it will “water your eyes.” 

Relative to your comment:  “They are asking that children not be barred from being able to talk about their home life or their thoughts simply because they or their parents are gay.”  

Nothing in the bill you wrote about barred any child or children from talking about their home life.  Read the bill!  It is elementary and middle school teachers who are restricted from “teaching about it or distributing material about it.”  

However, I suspect that you seldom find children “bragging” about parents that are drug addicts or incarcerated, even formerly so.  Since both of the previously named conditions are the result of behavioral choices of the parents, how are these any different from the behavioral choice of homosexual conduct?  If children bring up any of these situations before their peers as conditions at home, the children will very likely suffer the same treatment from their peers.  Why is one any worse than any of the others?  If they are all equally bad in terms of impact on the child, then don’t single any of them out to be protected more than another.  

Relative to your comment:  “So will you choose to protect our rights from all groups, foreign or domestic, who dare try to take them away?”  

Madam, I spent 24 years defending the rights of American citizens.  That included more than 7 years overseas and time in 2 combat theaters.  I have carried the lifeless body of a comrade-in-arms on my shoulder on foreign soil, and when I was 25, walked the widow of my best friend and squadron mate to the cemetery.  

Consequently, I have earned the right to speak my mind regardless of what the mavens of political correctness may prefer.  Homosexual behavior has no more right to be taught in our schools than does prostitution, polygamy, pederasty, pedophilia or any number of other licentious activities into which George Washington warned us abused liberty could disintegrate. 

John D. Ragan
State Representative

Constituent email message to State House Representatives (May 24, 2011):

Dear representatives of the State of Tennessee,

As you are well aware SB049 recently came to a vote and passed the Senate and is moving on to the House. If you supported this bill I urge you to think about the words that I am writing and reconsider your position over the next year as it truly is a poor reflection of the values that our wonderful government and nation are based upon.

First and foremost, our nation is a nation based upon the right to personal freedoms and the power of choice. We can choose our religion, our words and our beliefs. We can choose who we support, how we support them and how we announce that support. We can choose to agree to have differences or to actively express our common bonds. There are many things we can choose to do, all without the fear of government or the military knocking on our doors to remove us from our homes and our families because we dared to disagree with the policies of our government. 

The absolute conviction that each person has certain inalienable rights such life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the very things that our troops valiantly fight to protect. And it should be these same things that our representatives fight to uphold. These attributes define the United States of America so much so that if a person is fighting to protect America, they are fighting to protect these rights.

If we become separated from this fact then what are we fighting for? What are we promoting? If we lose even one of these rights, how long before we lose more? 

When I see a debate such as this come up and see people who are on both sides openly stating their thoughts and feelings on the matter I am very proud to be an American. After all, that is freedom of speech at its finest. But when I see that a group of representatives of the law of this land is trying to build a wall around a group of people to prohibit others from noticing them except to notice that their chosen lifestyle is labelled as unnatural I am reminded of the scarlet letter that  Hester Prynne was forced to wear that branded her as unclean because she chose to do something that others considered wrong. When reading this story now do we not cringe at the short-sighted and small-minded views of these people? If SB49 passes the House and becomes a part of our history how much cringing will future generations do when they review this story?

Her child was ridiculed because of her choice from birth. Is this really what we want to happen to our youth? Should they be penalized because there are people in our nation who think that homosexuality is wrong? Or believe that homosexuality will stop being a part of our society if it is not spoken of in our schools? 

Homosexuality has been and will always be a part of our society. Kings, clergy, slaves, businessmen/women, home makers, tax payers, Caucasians, Hispanics, Blacks, Chinese, Japanese - all races from all nations have homosexual members.  

Homosexuality, much like sex, if not discussed at home and in the classroom will be discussed among their peers and we can see how that is working.  The difference is that if homosexuality is labeled unnatural by silent implication then when students discuss their feelings and thoughts with their peers we can not be certain what will happen. Will there be acceptance and understanding or will there be fear and violence?

Fear of word creates confusion and discord. Knowledge of a word enables clarity and understanding. Understanding of a word removes all fears and social stigmas so that tolerance and love are allowed to flow. 

Shouldn't the discussion be more of when and in what way it is appropriate to teach homosexuality instead of how to ban discussion of homosexuality? Teachers do not teach how heterosexuals actually have intercourse so why would people think that they would teach how homosexuals have intercourse? Shouldn't our children be taught that, at least in America, everyone is equal and has equal rights? 

At the age group this bill is geared toward shouldn't we be showing our children by example that there is never a reason to discriminate, silently or loudly, against any group of people? Shouldn't we show them that America values the quality of life a person lives based upon the right of choice? And that nothing can keep a person from following their dreams - not race, religion, disability or sexuality?

I say that if the fact that a person is homosexual influenced the choices they made and that those choices impacted the course of our history then it should be presented as such. Much like Harvey Milk - his personal lifestyle affected his political choices. The same as someone being a minority will affect their political choices. 

Should either one be ignored? I think not. 

Homosexuality is not a disease, it is not contagious, it does not make a person evil. Living a homosexual life style is a choice. Wether or not people are born gay or made a choice to be gay based on their experience with people of the opposite sex, actually living the lifestyle - having a partner or just having same sex relations is a choice. It is a freedom that should not be denied or silenced because some of the population disagree based on religion.

Homosexuals are not asking for teachers or anyone else to encourage children to be gay - they are asking that homosexuality not be silently labeled as unnatural, unclean or bad. They are asking that the fact that they are a part of our society be recognized. They are asking that the fact that their choices have an impact upon our society - positive or negative -just the same as a heterosexual persons choices have an impact in either a positive or negative way be recognized. They are asking that children not be barred from being able to talk about their home life or their thoughts simply because they or their parents are gay.

SB49 HB229, if passed, will impose fines or worse on educators who chose to notice the fact that homosexuality exists and impacts the lives of the students they teach. SB49 HB229 will effectively glue educators mouths shut on an issue that effects many of the students. This legislation will silently label homosexuality as abnormal and lend silent approval to anyone who wishes to treat it as such.

The vote you cast on this piece of legislation is not just a representation of the here and now but of the future also. It will set a precedent for other pieces of legislation that could strip more of our valuable rights. I encourage you to think about this especially as this legislation has grabbed the attention of not just America but other nations as well. The question now becomes, will Tennessee (and America) be viewed as the state (nation) that is known as the "do what I say, not do as I do" nation? Remember, we take up up arms against and go to war for other nations to help their citizens move toward enjoying the rights we enjoy.  So will you choose to protect our rights from all groups, foreign or domestic, who dare try to take them away?  

I hope so.

Concerned Citizen [Name withheld by request]