Tennessee has been a toxic place on issues of sex and gender recently, with the University of Tennessee recently caving to Fox News’ complaints and cutting funding for students’ “Sex Week” programming. This week there was some good news, however, because two anti-gay pieces of legislation died in committee.
The first was the odious “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was originally designed to censor school officials and teachers from discussing homosexuality in grades K-8. Versions introduced this year included requirements that school counselors out LGBT students to their families or prevent counselors from providing mental health services whatsoever. The bill did not receive a second when it was moved in the House Education Subcommittee and subsequently died. State Rep. John Ragan (R), who sponsored the bill because “it was about school safety,” has promised to reintroduce it next year.
Another bill targeted institutions of higher education, threatening to cut support for campus police if universities required student groups to abide by “all-comers” nondiscrimination policies. The intention behind such measures, like one recently passed in Virginia, is to allow Christian groups to discriminate against gay students. Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper (D) called the bill unconstitutional and Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said he saw no reason to have the bill considered. Last year, he vetoed a similar bill targeting university nondiscrimination statements. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Pody (R), took the bill “off notice,” killing it, but his apparent vendetta against Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy suggests this isn’t the last of his efforts.
The death of these two bills is a nice reprieve for Tennessee’s LGBT community, but it seems neither of these fights is permanently over.