Tennessee ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Advances, Sponsor Says Teachers Need Time for ‘Arithmetic’

A bill popularly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advanced yesterday out of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee. The bill would prohibit teachers from discussing of any sexuality except heterosexuality in grades K-8,” even with students who may be gay or have gay family,” according to Ben Byers of the Tennessee Equality Council (TEP). The committee amended the bill to require the Board of Education to study whether homosexuality is actually being taught in schools, but it will still institute a ban in February of next year.

Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) is passionate about this legislation, which he previously sponsored unsuccessfully in the state House for six years. In 2009, Campfield explained that he’s not homophobic; it’s just that the issue is “complex.” He clarified this past September that he supports promoting tolerance, but not acceptance:

You can talk about TEA and NEA resolutions talking about how they think there should be not just tolerance of the lifestyle, but acceptance of it. That flies completely in the face of a lot of people. A lot of people say, hey, I understand tolerance. I’m all for tolerance. I’ve co-sponsored the anti-bullying bill. But to say we have to go to acceptance, that’s something completely different.

He also thinks teachers don’t have enough time to teach core subjects:

If I can take one thing away and say, hey, you don’t have to teach about homosexuality to your second-graders, you can spend more time on arithmetic.

Film director and producer Del Shores recently challenged Campfield on Facebook to debate his bill. Campfield agreed but demanded a $1,000 retainer. According to Drew Rawlins of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, such an honorarium could be found to be an ethics violation if a formal complaint is filed. Though TEP has rejected Shores’ request for assistance in funding the retainer request, Shores seems committed to making the debate happen.

The bill (SB49) now advances for consideration by the full Senate. A similar bill (HB229) has not advanced out of the House Education General Subcommittee.