A bill that would prohibit teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade has advanced in Tennessee's Senate.
Sponsored by state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R), who unsuccessfully pushed the same measure for six years while serving in the House, the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill would make it illegal for educators to discuss any sexual behavior apart from heterosexuality with students in kindergarten up through the eighth grade.
Members of the Tennessee Equality Project, a local gay rights organization which actively opposes the legislation, worry its passage would alienate certain children. ""It means [teachers] can't talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have [a] gay family," said Ben Byers, a spokesman for the group.
Supporters, on the other hand, tout the importance of an "age appropriate" curriculum.
The measure underwent some complicated maneuvers before its passage in the state Senate. Jim Tracy (R), a member of the Senate Education Committee, argued the law was already in practice, as it's a misdemeanor to discuss any issues at school outside Tennessee's established "family life" program. Tracy thus proposed an amendment to Campfield's bill requiring the Board of Education to examine whether homosexuality is indeed being taught in the state's classrooms.
The Senate passed Tracy's amendment, and soon after, fellow Sen. Brian Kelsey (R) proposed a further revision to Campfield's bill, one that would explicitly exclude homosexuality from the state's family life curriculum. Kelsey's amendment cleared the Education Committee in a 6-3 vote Wednesday, with only Democrats opposing. The measure will now be sent to the Senate floor.
Campfield, 42 and unmarried, is no stranger to controversial legislation -- in the past, he's proposed issuing death certificates for aborted fetuses and permitting guns on college campuses.
He faced blogosphere backlash earlier this week after refusing to debate the "Don't Say Gay" bill with actor Del Shores unless Shores paid Campfield a $1,000 retainer fee. Shores asked the Tennessee Equality Project for help raising the funds, and the organization refused, replying in an email that the group cannot justify raising money for an event that would "financially benefit Sen. Campfield in his pursuit of anti-LGBT legislation."