The eyes of those committed to the progression of LGBT rights will be on the state of Tennessee this legislative session. Due to a Republican majority in the Tennessee General Assembly, we have seen a major regression when it comes to reaching equality in this state. Last session the Assembly passed a bill (HB 600) that prevents Tennessee cities from enacting their own nondiscrimination policies. Even though this is the law of the land for now, a court challenge is in the works.
Also last session we saw a bill that, many years after being introduced, finally found some traction in the Assembly, a bill known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. This piece of legislation would prevent public elementary and middle schools from teaching or distributing material on human sexuality that deals with homosexuality. Only heterosexuality may be taught. This bill brings into question how one "teaches" homosexuality:
Is it teaching homosexuality if a teacher has a picture of them with their partner on their desk and an inquisitive student asks who the other individual in the picture is?
Is it teaching homosexuality if a student with two moms or two dads is allowed to bring their unconventional family to school on Parents Day and a student inquires about the same-sex partnership?
Is it teaching homosexuality if an aspiring teacher who works with kids during an after-school program performs in drag in his free time?
The "Don't Say Gay" bill, as currently written, could jeopardize the jobs of teachers in the situations proposed above, and indeed teachers everywhere, straight or gay. (Additionally, what about the Bible and other religious works or books that reference homosexuality? Is that teaching it?)
This bill will be up for debate once again this session.
Another piece of legislation that has been introduced this session is the so-called "License to Bully" bill. What this bill would do, if passed, would give students the ability to justify bullying their peers that are gay or perceived to be gay by pointing to a political or religious conviction. It's one thing to have an academic debate in the classroom about gay issues, but it is another thing to let those debates turn into harassment and bullying in the hallways. This bill would do that.
In Tennessee we have seen the heartbreaking story of Jacob Rogers, a young man who took his own life due to being bullied for being gay. Do the sponsors of these bills understand the ramifications that this toxic legislation will have on our youth? I seriously doubt they do or even care, as long as they can put another legislative victory under their belt.
And lastly, it seems that the realm of education isn't enough for this current legislature. There is now a bill that has been introduced that would harm gender-variant people. HB 2279, or the "Gender Check, Please" bill, as I like to call it, would "restricts access to public restrooms and public dressing rooms designated by sex to members of that particular sex." Not only would this bill hurt transgender people, but it may also prevent parents from accompanying their child into the restroom.
These bills are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gay politics and issues in the state of Tennessee. Not only is it going to take every Tennessean who believes in equality to help fight this horrible legislation, but it is also going to take people across the nation to shut down the sorts of unrepentant, negative, and regressive mindsets that have called my legislature home. I believe that together we can fight these anti-human bills and work toward a Tennessee, and a nation, that believes in true equality for everyone.