The Tennessee state House Education Committee approved the legislation by a vote of 8-7. The measure had initially failed on a voice vote, but passed in a roll call vote requested by its sponsor.
Rep. Joey Hensley (R), a leading sponsor of legislation, said a survey of his district showed “well over 95 percent … don’t want homosexuality discussed in those grade levels.”
“So that’s what pushed me over the line to go ahead with the bill,” he said.
Hensley said the bill was amended to allow students to ask teachers or guidance counselors questions about alternative lifestyles, but “teachers can’t teach that as an acceptable lifestyle.”
Hensley added that the amended version of the bill should pacify those concerned the proposal would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.
Critics have charged that the measure is unnecessary, as state education officials have publicly said that alternative lifestyle discussions are already banned from the state school’s curricula guidelines.
Democratic Representative John Deberry of Memphis said, “I agree that these are issues that do not need to be put in front elementary children. However, officials say this is already state policy. And because it’s policy already, there was just no point in mudding the water.”
A companion bill passed the state’s Senate in a 19-10 vote last year. The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.