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Critics say Tennessee lawmaker’s latest target is gay-straight alliances

Saturday, May 21, 2011
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Tennessee lawmaker Stacey Campfield has spent the better part of the last seven years in the Tennessee legislature fighting for the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a law aimed at prohibiting teachers from discussing homosexuality in kindergarten through 8th grade classrooms.

Stacey Campfield

On Friday, the Tennessee state Senate approved an amended version of Campfield’s controversial bill, which would now restrict the teaching of sexuality issues to natural human reproduction only.

Campfield, a 42-year-old confirmed bachelor with no kids of his own, said the bill was necessary because homosexuality is a “learned behavior.”

“If I can take one thing away and say, hey, you don’t have to teach about homosexuality to your second-graders, you can spend more time on arithmetic,” said Campfield, suggesting that homosexuality was part of the elementary school curriculum — which it is not.

Now Campfield (R-Knoxville), has another bill making its way through the legislature, SB 426, which originally called for school systems to send home a list of clubs and organizations on each campus, so that parents could veto some in advance.

Opponents have claimed Campfield is targeting gay-straight alliance groups, since many students who are out to their peers are still struggling to come out to their parents.

But when the Senate was expected to vote on the bill Monday, Campfield amended it to be even more restrictive — the new “opt-in” version would require a parent to send a separate permission slip for any and all extracurricular activities:

“Some parents may not want kids to be involved in clubs, for whatever reasons. They may say, Hey, Johnny or Billy is doing poor in school, I don’t want him doing chess club, or dance club or whoever knows what club. We may want him to be studying, instead. This is just to give those parents that approval power, similar to what we do for sports.”

Some Senators called Campfield’s “opt-in” version overkill. They spun stories of their own children’s involvement with the school system -– a not-so-subtle dig at the Campfield, who’s not exactly an authority on parenting.

But Campfield ignored the digs and continued to argue for increased parental controls.

Eventually, Republican Senators sent the bill back to the Senate Education Committee for more study, where an “opt-out” amendment prevailed.

In the “opt-out” version, which the committee has now sent back to the full Senate, schools would be required to print notification within student handbooks of a parent’s right to opt their child out of school clubs.

The Tennessee Equality Project said the “opt out” version of the bill would preserve gay-straight alliances in Tennessee schools, and it advocating that Senators approve it without any additional amendments. A petition has been launched at Change.org.

The Senate could vote on the bill anytime this week while in session.

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