Despite nationwide criticism, a controversial Tennessee bill that would restrict references to homosexuality in schools has cleared its first hurdle in the state's House of Representatives.
The Tennessean is reporting that the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, authored by Republican lawmaker Stacey Campfield, was approved by the House Education subcommittee in a voice vote Wednesday. The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade, the Associated Press noted.
The panel accepted the version of the bill that passed the state Senate late in last year’s session.
Supporters of the bill, such as Democratic state Rep. John DeBerry, argue that the bill helps protect parents' right to educate their children about their beliefs on their own terms. "The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," said DeBerry. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and to indoctrinate them as I see fit."
Pointing to the cases of Phillip Parker and Jacob Rogers, two local teens who committed suicide in recent weeks after claiming to have endured anti-gay bullying in their respective schools, opponents of the bill say it would send the signal that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lifestyles should be stigmatized.
"This is such a shame that we have ... a Legislature that doesn't care about us," 21-year-old Eric Patton, one of a number of protesters that attended the meeting, told the AP. "When we have more kids committing suicide because of this bill, the blood will be on their hands."
Campfield defended the legislation last month in a controversial interview with HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile. "There are sexually confused children who could be pushed into a lifestyle that I don’t think is appropriate with them and it's not for the norm for society, and they don't know how they can get back from that," he said. "I think a lot of times these young teens and young children, they find it very hard on themselves and unfortunately some of them commit suicide."
According to Nashville Scene, one area preacher testified children might find out about gay people by watching "Modern Family" even if teachers aren’t allowed to say gay in schools, to which subcommittee chairman Joey Hensley responded, “I don’t think 'Modern Family' is appropriate for children to watch."
See what the show's openly gay star Jesse Tyler Ferguson said in response, along with some other interesting tweets about the legislation, below: