‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Threatens Trusting Relationship Between Educators and Students
By Edward Graham
Last year, Tennessee lawmakers considered passing a controversial bill that would have restricted state elementary and middle school educators and administrators from offering “…any instruction and or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.” The legislation, officially known as the “Classroom Protection Act” but is more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, received widespread national attention and condemnation as a noxious attempt to marginalize gay and lesbian students. Fortunately, after passing the state Senate, the bill died in the House.
Now, state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), one of the original sponsors, has reintroduced the legislation, including an amendment that makes the new bill even worse.
The amendment prohibits “classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction,” and adds a provision that would force school administrators, educators, and nurses to “out” closeted or sexually-confused students to their parents.
Under this new version of the bill, students who are unsure about their orientation and approach an educator to discuss their feelings would be “outed” to their parents. Here’s the key language: “Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred.”
“This is the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill on steroids,” Chris Sanders, president of the Nashville committee of the Tennessee Equality Project, told the Associated Press. “It’s still meant to rule out classroom conversation about anything other than heterosexuality. But in addition, it attacks the counseling relationship between children and counselors.”
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth also expressed concern that this crucial relationship would be compromised by the bill.
“Teachers, counselors and other school personnel frequently serve as trusting adults for children and youth at a time when relationships with parents are sometimes strained,” said a statement released by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “To establish these trusting relationships, students need some level of confidence that their privacy is respected and that the information they share will not be shared with others, including their parents.”
Fortunately, Campfield’s most recent attempt to push through the new “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been met with stiff resistance from educators and lawmakers across the state, who see the legislation as an unnecessary and offensive government intrusion into the private lives of students.
Meanwhile, a similar bill that was proposed in the Missouri Legislature last year and was likewise buried by lawmakers has not been re-filed. The renewed effort of Sen. Campfield to once again pass the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has left many lawmakers and state leaders openly questioning why he is so bent on pursuing such a politically-charged and divisive proposal that is even too extreme for some members of his own party.
Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association and a math teacher in Sevier County believes lawmakers like Campfield need to turn their attention to the state’s more pressing issues.
“We look to our legislators for stewardship of our state’s economic development, job growth and forward-looking approach to education. Unfortunately, Sen. Campfield focuses his energy elsewhere, ” Summerford said.