Anti-Gay Education Bills Struggling in Tennessee

Posted by MK on Mar 28, 2013 @ 2:29 pm
Tennessee State Capitol Building_Legislature has dropped anti-gay bills for now

Tennessee State Capitol

Two education-related bills championed by opponents of LGBT rights have died in the Tennessee legislature—for now anyway—and the consideration of a third bill has been deferred.

One of the measures, often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would have prohibited “classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction” in K-8 schools. Though this language is vague (perhaps intentionally so), it has been widely understood to prohibit discussion of homosexuality. And while the bill carved out exceptions to the general rule, those exceptions raised a lot of red flags.

For example, the bill would have allowed certain school employees to provide counseling to a student “who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person”; the same school employees would also have been free to “respond[] appropriately” if a student’s “circumstances present[ed] immediate and urgent safety issues involving human sexuality.” In either case, however, the bill also would have required that school notify parents of the counseling. Critics warned that this language would (and was likely intended to) require schools to “out” a student to his or her parents if the student identified him or herself as lesbian, gay or bisexual to a school counselor.

Fortunately, the bill didn’t receive enough support to advance in Tennessee’s House Education Subcommittee, so it’s dead for now. The bad news is that its sponsor has promised to bring it back next year.

Vanderbilt Police Car

One of the bills would have de-funded police forces at universities (like Vanderbilt) that apply their non-discrimination policies to all student groups.*

A second bill in the state legislature would have cut off funds for campus police at any college or university that applied an “all-comers” non-discrimination policy to religious student organizations. In other words, if a university required all student organizations, including religious groups, to welcome any student as a member without discrimination, the university would lose its state-authorized police force. The bill was aimed in particular at Vanderbilt University, which has an “all-comers” policy for registered student organizations.

The state Attorney General issued an opinion questioning the constitutionality of this second bill, and it was withdrawn from consideration. Its sponsors still might try to get a different version of the bill enacted, however. Stay tuned.

A third bill, aimed at protecting anti-gay discrimination by students in counseling, psychology and social work programs, has failed to advance in the state House as well. According to the Tennessee Equality Project, the bill “has been deferred to summer study in the House Education Subcommittee.” This last bill already passed the state Senate, as I discussed in a recent post. (See Legal Protections for (Anti-Gay) Religious Counselors Advance in Tennessee.)

For a related post about anti-gay education laws in other states, see Does Your State Have a “No Promo Homo” Law?

MK

*Vanderbilt police car photo courtesy of Daniel Schwen.

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