Tennessee’s forbidden word

A piece of legislation known to the general public as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in the Tennessee Senate last week.

A piece of legislation known to the general public as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in the Tennessee Senate last week. It seems that for students in this state, their instruction will now be lacking a few rather significant pieces of information, causing a Tennessee education to be less than educational.

The bill passed after a change in wording. Originally, the bill prohibited “the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8.”

After deliberation, the language of the bill was amended, instead stating than what would be taught in public schools was solely to be “age-appropriate natural human-reproduction science.” According to bill sponsor State Senator Stacey Campfield, homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce, and as such would not be a part of any curriculum until high school, if even then.

Opponents of the proposed law call it bigotry and state-sponsored hate speech. Others see the bill as an attempt to further shadow the Tennessee LGBTQ community. But for those paying attention to precedent, it’s a slap in the face of all those harmed by Section 28 in the U.K.

Section 28 of the United Kingdom’s Local Government Act of 1988 made it illegal for public schools to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or to “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

The U.K. act was controversial, inciting a wave of pro-gay rights groups and the “coming out” of prominent figures in the U.K., including actor Sir Ian McKellen (of “Lord of the Rings” and “X-Men” fame).

Due to confusion over the wording, no one was ever arrested or prosecuted under the law, but its effects were widespread.

As with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Section 28 was designed to limit children’s exposure to gay and lesbian lifestyles. Discussion of these lifestyles was all but eliminated in schools. Resources for LGBTQ students were removed from schools altogether.

The language of the act was considered offensive, but the government defended it viciously. Proponents of the act called homosexuality “evil” and “unnatural,” and they celebrated its passing as a moral victory. At the time, they were certain that the act was a step in the right direction. Over time, however, even the staunchest supporters of the act began to change their minds about it. It was repealed fifteen years later under the Local Government Act of 2003.

Ignoring the lessons learned from Section 28 is a grave mistake for Tennessee. If put into effect, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill threatens to marginalize a portion of the population known for its unwillingness to be ignored or mistreated.

Supporters of the bill do not realize some of its potential effects, from an increase in prejudice to the galvanizing of gay rights groups all across the United States. And with 53 percent of Americans now in favor of legalizing gay marriage (according to a Gallup poll), it can safely be assumed that there will be a backlash from this.

The text of the bill states that “certain subjects” are best left to parents to teach at home. “Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications,” the bill states. “Those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.”

According to the bill, this means that children, below ninth grade at least, aren’t mature enough to understand aspects of sexuality, and that parents are.

Senator Campfield stated that it was designed to be “neutral,” eliminating discussion of homosexuality, both good and bad. All the same, Campfield has made it more than obvious that he is not neutral on the subject. He has previously compared homosexuality to bestiality.

Senate Bill 0049 is most certainly not neutral. It is bigotry at its most cunning.

Because homosexuality would not be taught in schools K-8, children of gay parents would not be allowed to share their personal lives. Gay students might not receive any education relating to them, or regarding safe sexual and emotional practices. Counselors would not be allowed to provide any information to students if a student asked.

Senator Campfield, however, is very proud of the bill. Even though he did have to alter the bill so it didn’t seem as bigoted as it is.

A vote scheduled for next year will determine whether this bill becomes law. Any legislature which stands in the way of freedom of speech or unnecessarily targets one group is unconstitutional. Make no mistake about it: the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is bigotry. It is an attempt to subvert the necessary discussion of homosexuality simply because people in power hold bigoted views.

Tennessee is the first state in the U.S. to attempt to introduce this sort of legislation. Let’s hope it’s also the last.  ?