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VOL. 36 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 9, 2012




'Don't Say Gay' bill stalls again in Legislature

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The House sponsor of a proposal to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students delayed the measure on Tuesday to allow lawmakers to consider a more comprehensive bill.

The legislation, known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, was up in the House Education Committee. It seeks to limit all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald acknowledged there are problems with the measure and once again delayed it so lawmakers can review another proposal that would place restrictions on "family life education" curricula taught in schools.

Rep. Jim Gotto is the sponsor of that legislation. The Hermitage Republican said in an interview that he didn't intend for the bill to be an alternative to Hensley's, but rather to address Tennessee's high ranking for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Gotto said the proposal would allow the teaching of safe sex, but the curriculum would have to be "abstinence-centered," emphasizing that abstinence is withholding from "any kind of sexual contact."

"We have been teaching sex education now for several years, and apparently the way we're teaching it now is not working," he said. "This is an attempt to try to tweak the law so that going forward it will work. This is much more comprehensive."

Under the proposal, a family life education curriculum also would "encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about sex or other risk behaviors."

A parent or guardian can file a complaint with the director of schools if there's speculation that "a teacher, instructor, or representative of an organization has not complied with the requirements of this bill," according to the legislation.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has not commented about the family life proposal, but he has publically stated he doesn't think the "Don't Say Gay" proposal is needed because there are already rules governing what schools may teach.

"I think the Board of Education is more than willing to send out reminders to teachers about ... what the boundaries are there," Haslam told reporters this week. "So, I'm not sure it's a helpful conversation, or that it's even a needed conversation."

Supporters of the proposal say they've heard reports of some teachers discussing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, and they want to prevent that.

State education officials acknowledge such instruction is already banned from the current curriculum, but proponents of the bill feel it's necessary in case the state Board of Education decides to change the curriculum.

Others say the measure is too broad and fear it would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.

Eric Patton is one of a number of protesters that came to the Capitol complex on Tuesday to oppose the Don't Say Gay proposal. The 21-year-old believes there are more important issues for lawmakers to focus on, such as job creation.

"Job bills before bullying bills, because Tennessee needs jobs more than they need more bullies," Patton said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate State and Local Government Committee delayed action on a proposal that seeks to repeal a Tennessee law passed last year that prohibits local governments from creating anti-discrimination regulations that are stricter than those of the state. The law nullified a Nashville ordinance barring companies that discriminate against gays and lesbians from doing business with the city.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean sent a letter to the chairman of the committee in support of the legislation to repeal the law.

"A number of cities throughout our country have passed local ordinances similar to Nashville's," Dean wrote. "Such ordinances represent the decisions of locally elected government bodies, and I believe they deserve the respect of the state Legislature. Now is not the time to abandon our belief in local government."

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