Will Tennessee teachers have to out gay students?

A pending "don't say gay" bill could force K-12 educators to inform parents if their child is — or may be — gay

Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield has been trying to push his anti-gay laws for several years.
(Image credit: Thinkstock)

In 2011, Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) earned the ire of gay-rights supporters by authoring and championing a "don't say gay" bill, forbidding teachers to even mention homosexuality to kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The bill passed out of the relevant committees of both the state House and Senate, but expired at the end of the legislative session in 2012. Well, "it's back," says Katie McDonough at Salon. "And it's awful," even worse than the previous version. Why? This time, Campfield added new language in the bill that "would require teachers to tell parents when students are — or might be — gay." Here's the relevant section of the bill:

The general assembly recognizes that certain subjects are particularly sensitive and are, therefore, best explained and discussed within the home. Because of its complex societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications, human sexuality is one such subject. Human sexuality is best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp its complexity and implications. At grade levels pre-K through eight (pre-K-8), any such classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction shall be classified as inappropriate for the intended student audience and, therefore, shall be prohibited....

LEA policies and procedures adopted pursuant to this section shall not prohibit... A school counselor, nurse, principal or assistant principal from counseling a student who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person; provided, that wherever possible such counseling shall be done in consultation with the student's parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred. [PDF]

What is Campfield thinking? Well first, unlike lawmakers in California, who banned the controversial gay "conversion" therapy for minors, says Salon's McDonough, Campfield is apparently a fan of the practice "('counseling' in the bill's nomenclature), in which psychologists and psychiatrists... try to change the recipient's sexual orientation." Many states require teachers to report "any signs of child being abused, depressed, or suicidal" to parents or higher authorities, says Ilana Glazer at The Daily Beast, and Campfield apparently believes that "being gay is so abnormal, it must be reported so that such behavior can be thwarted." Still:

This Tennessee bill, coupled with the recent Boy Scout debate, seems to be part of a disturbing trend. While equality battles up until now have been about LGBT rights for adults, the debate has now shifted to a point where children are becoming collateral damage. [Daily Beast]

Campfield mostly "seems determined that his name will forever more be synonymous with the term 'gay-bashing,'" says Jackson Baker at the Memphis Flyer. That, and making a name for himself, period. It's hard to escape the fact that this new "don't say gay" bill actually does let you "say 'gay' if you must, but say it out of the hearing of the Regular Kids and in a way that isolates the suspected or known outliers and makes them squirm. Call it Tough Love. Call it The Cure." Luckily, "we will hazard here the prediction that Campfield's newest philippic against the state of gaydom will ultimately meet the fate of his first effort" — death by inaction.

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Let's hope so, says Annie-Rose Strasser at ThinkProgress. "Family rejection is a serious risk for LGBT youth," often leading to depression or suicide. And if this legislation does pass, plenty more gay kids will surely "face alienation, if not outright abandonment," and the state will be saddled with an epidemic of marginalized or homeless children.

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