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Tennessee ‘Don’t Say “Gay” Bill’ Passed

21/05/2011

I find it totally shocking that the Tennessee Senate has passed Senate Bill 49 (SB0049) which now requires that no elementary or middle school in the state can use materials or offer guidance/instruction that mentions homosexuality or indeed any form of sexuality/orientation or preference other than heterosexuality. In the UK we faced exactly the same prohibitions when Section28 of the Local Government Act (1988) was introduced (Section 2A in Scotland) which prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Section 2A was repealed in Scotland on the 21st May, 2000 and on the 18th November, 2003 in England and Wales. It never applied to Northern Ireland.

While subsequently the Department of Education and Science argued that Section 28 did not affect the activities of school governors or teachers in talking about homosexuality objectively, Dame Jill Knight (now Baroness Knight of Collingtree), was reported to have said:

“This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them.”

The text of Section 28 (2A) read as follows:

Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material.

(1)A local authority shall not—

(a)intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

(b)promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

It is noteworthy that the current prime minister, David Cameron, apologized to the Country for this pernicious piece of legislation:

“I am sorry for Section 28. We got it wrong. It was an emotional issue. I hope you can forgive us.” (The Telegraph, 1st July, 2009).

So now we have Tennessee doing something very similar. The new act (access the original text here) states:

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:
(c)
(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.
Section 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

Alas what Senator Campfield and those who supported him have failed to understand is that homophobic attitudes are not instilled in school but are instilled in the home, both directly and indirectly, by some parents, through media outlets and through those holding public office who, by the very act of ensuring that homosexuality cannot be discussed, give tacit approval to the promotion of homophobia as an acceptable attitude and thus cannot condone any behaviour associated with it.

While I claim no expertise on U.S. constitutional law, I understand fully that this new act does not demonstrate the magnanimity and duty of care that is enshrined within the Constitution. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment clearly states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As Senator Campfield sits back and reflects upon his success, perhaps he should think on this: In 1996,  the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a school district in the State of Wisconsin violated a gay student’s right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment following an incident of bullying. In 2004, a school district in California was similarly found to be lacking when it was ruled that a school’s inaction in tackling homophobia constituted intentional discrimination.

The question I leave my U.S. readers with is this, if a school or district can be found to have acted unconstitutionally, can a state senator or indeed a state senate?

NOTE: Alas in the State of Tennessee the Governor’s right of veto can be overruled by a two-thirds majority. The vote for Senate Bill 49 to be passed was 19-11.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marisol permalink
    22/05/2011 11:01 pm

    Yes, a senator/state senate can be found to have acted unconstitutionally as well – it will be a long drawn out process when this law is challenged – and then the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to decide whether they will hear arguments on it so that they may decide on its constitutionality.
    Ridiculous that this shit still takes place in 2011

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