NASHVILLE (AP) – A proposal that seeks to ban Tennessee public schools from teaching about gay issues advanced in the House on Wednesday despite opponents who say the measure could be harmful to gays.
The proposal, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, passed the House Education Subcommittee on a voice vote Wednesday. Republican House sponsor Joey Hensley of Hohenwald added an amendment that mirrors the Senate version of the proposal, which passed last year.
The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Opponents of the measure said it's too broad and fear it would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.
The parents of one of two gay teenagers who committed suicide in Tennessee recently have said constant bullying over being gay led their son to kill himself.
"This is such a shame that we have ... a Legislature that doesn't care about us," said 21-year-old Eric Patton, one of a number of protesters that attended the meeting. "When we have more kids committing suicide because of this bill, the blood will be on their hands."
Thomas Kleinert, a Nashville pastor with two children, agreed.
"I think this bill shuts down one of the avenues they have for seeking help," he said. "These children already feel isolated and alone and I think this bill reinforces those feelings."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said in a flier opposing the legislation that the broadness of the bill's language would "prohibit sharing information on the range of fertility technologies, including in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, now used by thousands of Tennesseans to create families."
Supporters say the proposal is not intended to be hurtful, but rather give teachers clear guidance for dealing with younger children on a potentially explosive topic.
John Deberry, a Memphis Democrat who voted for the legislation, said he views it as more of a "parental rights bill."
"It's the right to say as a parent, as a grandparent, what I want my children to be exposed to," Deberry said. "It's not about whether I agree or disagree with anybody else's opinion."
Read HB0229 at capitol.tn.gov
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