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Tennessee ‘Don’t Say “Gay” Bill (Senate Bill 49)


I have to admit that I have come late to the debate surrounding Tennessee’s Senate Bill 49, popularly known as the Don’t Say “Gay” Bill. The bill was introduced by State Senator Stacey Campfield with the intention of making illegal any references or statements (including instructional material) that mention any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. The senator has seen a significant backlash following the introduction of this bill to the state legislature through the FCKH8.COM campaign. It is also disturbing that the bill has passed through committee stage (both the judicial and education committees – the latter with some amendments). The bill is very carefully worded, and reads as follows:
(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, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

The text of the bill can be accessed here.

While Senator Campfield argues quite lucidly that parents should have a say in when issues of sexual orientation are introduced to their children in schools, this is a backward step and one that clearly suggests that, in elementary and middle schools in the State of Tennessee, homophobia will continue unabated.

Interestingly, in 1788 James Madison (1751-1836), later the Fourth President of the United States (1809-1817), and author of the Bill of Rights warned us of this sort of gradual erosion of freedom by those in positions of power when he said:

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

What a wise man President Madison was and it would serve Senator Campfield well to reflect upon his attempts to usurp those freedoms that not only ensure the safety and well-being of the families of voters, but also those future voters who will become invisible to teachers and targets of bullies within Tennessee schools.

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