NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, scheduled to be heard by the Tennessee state House Education Committee today, has been delayed for up to three weeks while the bill’s sponsor works on its language.
Republican state Rep. Joey Hensley, a leading sponsor of legislation to ban the teaching of LGBTQ issues to elementary and middle school students in the state’s schools, told the Associated Press Tuesday he’s not backing off the legislation despite concerns from GOP leaders and outrage from LGBTQ activists and their allies.
The bill would limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has called for further review of the bill, and Gov. Bill Haslam, a moderate Republican, has criticized the bill, and previously said, “It’s not going anywhere.”
Hensley, however, said he’s moving forward with the proposal this session.
The legislation was originally authored by Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield, — the original version of the bill would have prohibited public elementary and middle schools from providing “any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”
The amended version, using the language “natural human reproduction science,” leaves those terms undefined, reported the Associated Press.
Opponents are concerned about the implications across the United States as well as in Tennessee, where two teenagers, Jacob Rogers and Phillip Parker, have recently killed themselves after being bullied over their sexual orientation.
The measure has also run into opposition from local employers who fear that passage of the bill will chill efforts to increase recruitment by firms doing business in the state. FedEx and Dell are among the largest employers in Tennessee, and both have strict non-discrimination policies.
Chris Sanders, chairperson of the Nashville chapter of the Tennessee Equality Project, has argued that the bill would leave Tennessee schools to possible legal actions if staff members and faculty discuss LGBTQ issues with students whose parents may not know or approve of their children’s sexual orientation.
“This legislation sends a very clear message from the top that there is something wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” said Sanders.
Sanders noted that the bill was an openly transparent attack on LGBTQ people, and there were not any current issues dealing with sexuality in the state’s school systems.
“I can assure you that there are no elementary or middle school children in Tennessee that are getting a ‘how-to’ in gay sex,” he said.