Tennessee Legislators Delay ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill To Consider Abstinence-Only Education

The Tennessee House Education Committee voted today to again delay consideration of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to first allow consideration of another bill that implements sweeping abstinence-only education requirements. This legislation (HB 3621) would stipulate a “family life education” curriculum that is rife with factual untruths, such as:

  • Sexual health is best “encouraged” through abstinence-only education.
  • Social science research supports “the benefits of reserving the expression of human sexual activity for marriage.”
  • There is an “interrelationship between teen sexual activity and exposure to other risk behaviors such as smoking, underage drinking, drug use, criminal activity, dating violence, and sexual aggression.”

The bill is intended to reduce teenage pregnancy, but would surely have the opposite effect. Recent studies show that states with abstinence-only education requirements have the highest teen pregnancy rates. Young people who take virginity pledges have sex at the same rates as those who don’t, but are more likely to have unsafe sex when they do.

By limiting all conversations about sexuality to “abstinence until marriage,” this bill could have the same effect as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, condemning gay youth to a life of chastity and invisibility. Proponents may add amendments to incorporate the intended anti-gay censorship into this “family life education” curriculum or may still take up it separately, but either way, the results will reinforce anti-gay school environments. A new report from the Williams Institute examines the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s harmful impacts:

  • Hostile environments created by bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity lead to adverse health effects for LGBT youth.
  • Anti-gay stigma has been shown to be related to increases in violence against LGBT youth and adults, as well as to lower levels of health.
  • Harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity is widespread with LGBT youth at heightened risk.
  • Research shows that states and locales that promote LGBT-inclusive school policies help reduce teen suicide, and enhance the health and well-being of LGBT youth.
  • Laws with negative and discriminatory impact on the LGBT community could have a negative economic impact for business and the state economy.

The House Education Subcommittee could begin considering the abstinence-only bill as early as tomorrow.