Republican lawmakers in Missouri are defending their controversial bill to ban the teaching of sexual orientation in schools as a way to prevent students from learning about the "homosexual agenda," the "heterosexual agenda" and bestiality.
A group of 20 Republican state representatives introduced the so-called "don't say gay" bill last week to prevent the teaching of sexual orientation in public schools, with the exception of classes relating to human reproduction. The group includes some of the most powerful Republicans in the Missouri legislature -- House Speaker Steve Tilley (R-Perryville), Majority Leader Tim Jones (R-Eureka) and the chairs of the Rules and the Ways and Means committees. Tennessee legislators have been debating a similar proposal.
"When it comes to sexual orientation, that is a discussion that should be left for the most part up to the parents," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andrew Koenig (R-Winchester) told HuffPost. "It is a pretty political subject. I know there are a lot of parents that do not want the homosexual agenda taught in the schools."
Koenig said he has heard of what he called a "homosexual agenda" being taught in elementary school, but when questioned, said he did not know of specific incidents "off the top of my head."
"I have heard of instances with story books in grade school where it has come up," Koenig said. "You have heterosexuals pushing an agenda, and you have homosexuals pushing an agenda."
Koenig said he wants to amend the proposal to allow for the teaching of LGBT issues in current events classes.
State Rep. Steve Cookson (R-Fairdealing), the bill's principal author, was not available for comment. Cookson's assistant, Agnes Rackers, said Cookson rarely speaks to people from outside his southeastern Missouri district.
"He will probably not get around to calling you back since you are not in his district," Rackers told HuffPost.
A staffer in Tilley's office said he did not have time to speak until Wednesday afternoon.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Dwight Scharnhorst (R-St. Louis), a co-sponsor, said he believes sexual orientation issues should be taught by parents, clergy and physicians. Parents have been passing along responsibility for children to the public schools, partly because of the writings of the late pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, Scharnhorst said.
Scharnhorst told HuffPost that teaching about LGBT issues would lead to other discussions. "There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry a goat," he said.
State Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), a leading opponent of the bill, said he is not surprised by its introduction because Missouri Republicans have been wanting to limit discussion of LGBT issues. Webber pointed to the defeat of his bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation for the past several years. He said that while some Republicans have privately expressed support for the bill, political concerns prevent them from voting for it.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have been pushing to add gun owners to the listed of residents who cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. He said the presence of Republican leaders on the sexual orientation education bill sends a signal to him.
"It is not a fringe thing," Webber said of the legislation.
Koenig said he disagreed with the gun owners bill and Webber's legislation, saying that he believes the list of protected classes should not be made lengthy to avoid burdening the small business community. He said that it should be limited to racial and gender discrimination. Scharnhorst said he is against Webber's bill for similar reasons.
Koenig said he believes students being bullied because of their sexual orientation should be allowed to discuss it with counselors.
Scharnhorst stressed that his support of the bill should not be confused with his personal beliefs about the LGBT community.
"I'm not bigoted," he told HuffPost. "I have friends who are homosexual."
UPDATE: April 24, 11:46 a.m. -- State Rep. Steve Cookson released a statement Tuesday morning explaining his sponsorship of the "don't say gay" bill and why he does not view it as discriminatory. He said that he believes the bill's intent has been misreported in the media and that the bill's purpose is to shift discussion of sexual orientation out of the schools.
"Many of the recent articles on HB 2051 have shifted focus away from the true intent of my legislation, which is meant to protect the moral values that are most important to Missouri families. In a time when our public schools continue to struggle financially, we want their focus to be solely on core education issues such as math, science and reading; and not on topics that are better left for discussion in the home at the discretion of parents," Cookson said in the statement.
"It's also important to point out that my bill does not target a particular sexual orientation but instead says instruction or materials related to any sexual orientation should not take place in our public schools. This would not prohibit a student struggling with his or her sexual identity from talking to a school counselor or cause any of the other issues that have been misreported by the media. Instead it would simply ensure the focus of our public schools is on the curriculum parents expect their children to learn when they send them to school each day."