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Rep. Campfield’s Asinine “Keep ‘Em In the Closet” Bill

January 27, 2010

First off, here’s the text of HB821 (and here’s the bill’s page):

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-6-1005, is amended by adding the following as new subsection (c) and by relettering the existing subsection (c) accordingly:

(c)(1) The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of certain subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home. Human sexuality is an immensely complex subject with enormous societal, scientific, psychiatric and historical implications that are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp such issues. (2) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or materials discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

Here’s what the existing code section says:

(a) It is unlawful for any person in any manner to teach courses in sex education pertaining to homo sapiens in the public, elementary, junior high or high schools in this state unless the courses are approved by the state board of education and the local school board involved, and taught by qualified instructors as determined by the local school board involved. Any such course in sex education shall, in addition to teaching facts concerning human reproduction, hygiene and health concerns, include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years. With respect to sex education courses otherwise offered in accordance with the requirements of this subsection (a), no instructor shall be construed to be in violation of this section for answering in good faith any question, or series of questions, germane and material to the course, asked of the instructor and initiated by a student or students enrolled in the course.

(b) This section shall not apply to general high school courses in biology, physiology, health, physical education or home economics taught to classes.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

Alright, here’s the deal: I know sex education is a tricky subject, and one that parents should ideally be responsible for.  Given a basic assumption that some form of education about human reproduction is appropriate in high schools, a judgment our legislature and board of education has made, I think the existing checks and balances we have in place are good ones, and adequate to boot.  With a subject like this, we need to tread lightly and intelligently, but tread we must.  Leaving out homosexuality wholesale breeds discrimination, pure and simple.  Since we’re not instructing kids on how to have sex (and we’re not), but sticking to the basics of “human reproduction, hygiene, and health concerns,” then there should be no fear of straying into inappropriate territory anyway.

Our kids are growing up in a very diverse society.  Part of that diversity is the gay and lesbian community.  There’s a difference between advocating something (which teachers are not generally at school to do), versus informing students about the way the world works and getting them to think about things for themselves (which teachers are generally at school to do).  We’ve got the state board approval process already to decide what’s appropriate for kids of different ages to hear; banning any mention of homosexuality, no matter how the subject is broached or the context in which it is mentioned, is simply offensive.

The ACLU’s take on the matter was published two days ago (h/t Tom Humphrey):

ACLU of Tennessee opposes HB821 because:
  • Teachers, school counselors and other school administrators – not the General Assembly – are the most qualified to decide what the best way is to responsibly teach about diversity and other current events affecting students today.
  • Anti-gay bullying against both gay and straight students is one of the biggest problems in our public schools. Teachers and administrators should not be hamstrung in their efforts to address all forms of discrimination and harassment.
  • This blanket ban violates the First Amendment prohibition against viewpoint discrimination by favoring speech about “heterosexuality” and banning speech about gay issues regardless of the educational purpose.
  • HB821 infringes upon academic freedom by arbitrarily suppressing ideas and dictating to educators and students that only “heterosexuality” may be discussed.
  • The bill may be used to prohibit students from forming Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and from encouraging tolerance and respect for all students regardless of sexual orientation.

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