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Tennessee legislator's "Don't Say Gay" bill deserves to go down in flames

February 4, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
I have a real problem with legislators trying to put a muzzle on teachers and students in school.

That's essentially what a state legislator in Tennessee wants to do this session. According to the Associated Press, the latest version of Tennessee Republican Rep. Stacey Campfield's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill would prohibit classroom discussion of anything other than natural reproduction in Tennessee schools.

The bill would also give school personnel the authority to tell a child's parents if the child has discussed his or her own homosexual orientation or the subject in general with a teacher or counselor at school.

How many teenagers out there are afraid to tell their parents they might be gay because of a well-founded fear that the parents might physically hurt them or kick them out of the house? I don't see any loopholes in this bill for a circumstance like that. Once kids find out that this law is in effect, they will avoid discussing their sexual orientation at school and will probably get their information from more dubious sources.

There's a natural tension between parental rights and the rights of children and the government interest. Sometimes these rights conflict and laws that are passed have unintended consequences.

For instance, in the name of parental rights many states, including North Dakota, have raised age of consent laws and require parental notification or parental permission for a girl to get an abortion. Most states have also increased the number of people who are required to report abuse or neglect to law enforcement.

Such laws, though they are intended to protect children and encourage prosecution of crimes against them, may in some cases actually discourage kids and their families from talking about or getting help for the problems in their lives. Where are they supposed to turn when every adult in their immediate radius is a potential snitch and the potential legal penalties are so harsh? What happens if Mom or Dad is the scariest adult in their lives and the counselor or teacher is required to report everything the kid has said about becoming sexually active, being gay or wanting to end a pregnancy?

Also important is the chilling effect this type of law would have on classroom discussion and the education of adolescents. Part of an education is exploring controversial topics. In this day and age, particularly when the U.S. Supreme Court is about to take up the topic of gay marriage, that includes discussion of homosexuality.

Campfield's bill deserves an ignominious defeat. I hope similar laws will also be reconsidered.


Article Comments



Feb-05-13 6:56 PM

A study done last year at UCLA stated that 40 percent of homeless young people in shelters are gay or lesbian. There are a sizable number of kids who are indeed kicked out of their homes or disowned by their families for being gay.

At a minimum a law like that ought to have a clause that would let a teacher report such information to an alternate source and for a kid to go before a judge and explain why his parents shouldn't have that information. That's a clause in most of the laws requiring parental permission/notification for an abortion.


Feb-05-13 4:52 PM

Is there a number for these teenagers, with "a well-founded fear that the parents might physically hurt them or kick them out of the house" once they mentioned they might be gay?


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