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Tennessee Lawmaker Pushes 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

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Tennessee State Rep. Joey Hensley is the sponsor of the state's
Tennessee State Rep. Joey Hensley is the sponsor of the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Although GOP state leadership has asked him to back off the issue, the Republican sponsor of Tennessee's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill will continue to press for legislation banning discussion of LGBT issues in elementary and middle schools, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The bill would limit sexual education to "natural human reproduction science" from kindergarten to eighth grade. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenweld), said it would be delayed by up to three weeks.

"We don’t want students to be exposed to alternate lifestyles," Hensley said, according to The Tennessean. “If their parents want them to know about that, they can teach them at home.”

The House Education Committee was ready to debate the proposal on Tuesday, but Hensley said he needs more time to work on the bill's language. A legislative subcommittee approved the measure on Feb. 16.

Although he did not say he would veto the measure, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam called last week for lawmakers to drop the bill, arguing state legislators should focus on more pressing matters.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), who sponsored the Senate bill, told the Los Angeles Times that schools need what he called "Don't Teach Gay" legislation.

Campfield has previously claimed -- incorrectly -- that HIV spread to humans when a gay man had sex with a monkey, a statement that earned him the ire of gay rights supporters and led one restaurant in Knoxville, Tenn., to refuse him service, according to the Los Angeles Times.

School counselors said that the "Don't Say Gay" bill would hurt their ability to help students, according to an article published in The Tennessean last week.

Other legislators are also under fire for the legislation. State Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), a minister and supporter of the bill, will likely be challenged by a Democrat this year in his new district, which includes a larger proportion of the Memphis gay community.

"The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," DeBerry said in defense of the bill earlier this month. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and to indoctrinate them as I see fit."

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