Last week, our relatively quiet state made national news when the Senate passed SB49, commonly referred to the "Don't say gay" bill. Senator Stacy Campfield of Knoxville introduced the bill, after failing six times as a member of the House of Representatives. This bill makes it illegal for any mention of anything other than heterosexuality to be mentioned in public schools in grades K-8.
On the surface, this doesn't seem like such a big deal. Who wants teachers to talk to kindergartners about sexuality period? Well, they don't. My oldest daughter attends a Tennessee public school, and they didn't have any discussions of sexual health until sixth grade. When I attended a Tennessee public school, it was seventh grade. Boys and girls are divided up, and the health teachers (women with girls, men with boys) discussed the basics of reproduction, what happens, things like that. Actually, nothing about "sex" or sexuality at all. I think the only mention was something along the lines of 'the sperm is introduced into the vagina.' The details are left up to the parents. My daughter informed me her class didn't even get that far along in the discussion.
I really don't think there is a widespread problem of teachers in our schools discussing sex, whether it's heterosexuality, homosexuality, or anything else, with their students. This bill is simply another example of Mr Campfield trying to make a name for himself and endear himself to his ultra-conservative supporters who, in my mind, would prefer to live in a time where dancing was immoral and women were not allowed out without an escort - and if they happened to be stuck outside after dark with a man, were forced to marry him out of "propriety."
We have a different reality, though. What about children of gay parents? Or who are themselves gay? If the legislation does somehow make it into law, what will happen to them? Many children who are dealing with the confusion turn to trusted teachers for help - but what will happen when the teachers are forbidden to tell them they are ok, and point them in the direction of organizations who can help them? And the children with two moms or two dads, who are perfectly healthy and happy and well-cared for - this just sends a not-so-subtle message that their families are wrong somehow.
Do we really want our state to draw attention for this? We, as a whole, have been bashed for a week now, and are made to look like backwards idiots, just because this one man and five others (it passed with a 6-3 vote) are putting their own careers ahead of the greater good. As one celebrity pointed out (validly) on Twitter, in Tennessee it is perfectly acceptable to bully a gay teen and call him or her derogatory names and slurs, but it would be illegal to show a gay teen where to get support and help.
And what is really ironic, when you consider that? The last line of the bill, which makes up the entirety of Section 2:
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.
You can read an article about this bill in the Knoxville News Sentinel here.