At the end of the last legislative session in 2012, the House Sponsor of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Rep. Joey Hensley, decided against bringing the bill to the house floor for a vote.
Perhaps it was the closed door meetings with Republican Gov. Haslam and Republican Speaker of the House Beth Harwell or the bill and its supporters being skewered in the national media, but Hensley did offer the ominous warning that the bill may be refiled in the next legislative session if he were to discover “alternative lifestyles” being taught in Tennessee schools.
So, here we are early in the 2013 legislative session, and like some kind of horror movie creature that just will not stay dead, here comes the new and, as though it was even possible, much worse version of “Don’t Say Gay” creatively named “The Classroom Protection Act.” Sen. Stacey Campfield’s bill, SB0234, includes a tattletale clause that essentially requires teachers or guidance counselors to notify parents if they suspect a child is gay or questioning.
Yes, that’s right. The bill requires schools to out students to their parents.
“It’s kind of like ‘Don’t Say Gay’ on steroids,” says Chris Sanders, Chairman and President of the Tennessee Equality Project. “He’s listened to the objections and ended up making it worse.”
The new provision reads:
“A school counselor, nurse, principal or assistant principal from counseling a student who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person; provided, that wherever possible such counseling shall be done in consultation with the student’s parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred.”
At first read, that may not sound bad. The issue, however, is how exactly one interprets “behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person.”
Let us take a step back and look at the history of this issue and the dogged determination of Stacey Campfield. For reasons that are not fully clear, Campfield has tried to pass this bill for two years despite opposition to it and with no regard to those who point out the inherent danger it could bring.
The previous “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibited the discussion of homosexuality during any kind of sexual education instruction in grades K-8. Last year, after two years of contentious debate and countless taxpayer dollars spent, the bill finally died an embarrassing death when lawmakers realized that Tennessee schools do not have any sexual education instruction in grades K-8. Apparently, members of the House Education Committee were so busy trying to protect students from a dangerous component of the curriculum that no one bothered to look at the actual curriculum.
With this discovery and the national humiliation brought on the state as media outlets worldwide mocked the bill and its unceremonious end, you might think that lawmakers would just let the issue go. But, you would be wrong.
Campfield is pushing the legislation again this year and he has support in the House; Rep. John Ragan has signed on to help.
Last year, in the wake of the suicide death of gay teen Phillip Parker, a constituent of Ragan’s wrote the representative a letter pointing out the high rate of suicide of GLBT kids who are bullied, asking him to oppose the infamous (and mercifully now dead) “License to Bully” bill that would have allowed bullying by students claiming a religious or moral motivation. Ragan’s response to the constituent included a list of STD statistics and a final paragraph that likened the high suicide rate of GLBT kids to a hypothetical high suicide rate amongst murderers, pedophiles and prostitutes.
With beliefs like these, it is really no surprise and likely was not a hard sell to get Ragan on board. Ironically, Ragan’s bill was introduced to the House on Valentine’s Day and is virtually identical to Campfield’s Senate version.
Dubbing this year’s bill the “Classroom Protection Act”, the bills imply that they are shielding children from harm. Sanders feels that the name of the bill itself suggests a bias.
“Protection from who?” he asks.
The protection may need to come from Campfield.
Last year during a radio interview, Campfield was asked about the origin of HIV/AIDS. "Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community—it was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men.”
‘Classroom Protection’ and Metro-Nashville Schools
Although their opinions are not often solicited, students will be most affected by this bill. Several schools in Nashville have active Gay Straight Alliances. GSAs at Hume-Fogg, University School, and MLK were often present at rallies and hearings during the debate of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year.
“This bill will hurt all aspects of school life. By not allowing a clear, age-appropriate, educational discussion about the lifestyles some people have, the sponsors hope to encourage ignorance, prejudice, and misinformation,” said a leader of the GSA at local magnet high school MLK.
“Unfortunately, this year, it got worse. In a time where it's still incredibly difficult to be LGBT, state legislator Stacey Campfield has decided to add another burden to the queer students’ already heavy load by proposing a bill that would require school counselors to notify parents when a student talks to them about any aspect of being LGBT; whether it be bullying, harassment, or simply asking questions, their parents would have to be informed. This is a huge breach of conduct, especially when you consider the fact that most school-age children don't have the resources to go anywhere else; all our lives, students are told that if they ever have a problem, it's best to talk to guidance. But what happens when the only safe place becomes unsafe? With nowhere else to turn, where will our students go?"
You would d be hard pressed to describe middle school as easy; most everyone struggles in middle school. It is not only a time where the academic ante is upped, it is also a time where kids are trying to figure out who they are. Social pressures are immense. Fitting in is almost an obsession. Add to that the pressure of keeping your sexual identity or questions about it hidden out of fear.
“In addition to the usual 9-12th graders found in high schools across the country, my school also welcomes grades 7-8. Some of our GSA members are, indeed, seventh and eighth graders,” explains the MLK GSA leader.
“Under the previous edition of the bill, we would not be able to open our GSA to the middle schoolers; we would not be able to involve them at all. In an age where sexuality is frequently the subject of discussion both among youth and in the media, having a safe place where students can ask questions and be unafraid to be curious about sexuality and gender identity is essential.”
For his part, Gov. Haslam seems reluctant to do anything with the bill, recently telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “I know it's kind of a revised form of a bill that came up last year. At the time I didn't feel the bill last year was needed, and I don't really think this one is needed either."
To voice your concerns on this bill, contact:
Senator Stacey Campfield: firstname.lastname@example.org 615-741-1766
Representative John Ragan: email@example.com 615-741-4400
Speaker Beth Harwell: firstname.lastname@example.org 615-741-0709
Governor Bill Haslam: email@example.com 615-741-2001
Contact your individual Representative or Senator. To identify who represents you, go to: capitol.tn.gov/legislators/