Despite a strong push by its supporters, the Tennessee House K-12 Education Subcommittee has voted to send H.B. 0821, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, back to the Tennessee Board of Education for further review.
The bill has come up before and been deferred for further study, but its sponsor, state Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) was able to get it back on the subcommittee’s calendar for discussion today. He and other supporters, as well as detractors, debated for almost an hour before subcommittee chairman Les Winningham (D-Huntsville) made the motion to send the bill back to the state Board of Education.
According to Chris Sanders, board chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, more than 417 TEP members and supporters contacted the members of the subcommittee and spoke out against the bill. In a closely divided legislature, Sanders said that kind of input is key.
“If nobody had said anything, it might have advanced. This subcommittee has a tradition of handling curriculum bills a certain way, and many members were predisposed against this bill,” Sanders said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they would have voted against it. “Having that constituent contact adds another layer; if it’s not there, you’re taking a chance.”
Campfield had requested a roll-call vote on the bill, meaning that members who voted against it risked being tagged as “pro gay” by opponents in an election year. In Tennessee’s political climate that was a factor as well, Sanders added.
“The chairman’s motion deflected the partisan issue by sending this back to the Board of Education for further study,” he said. “This is a good solution, and it’s one that even picked up a Republican vote. Now the state board can study the issue further, as they have done before.”