- The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and its Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee chapters condemned the reintroduction of the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill (SB 234) in the Tennessee state legislature. The bill would prohibit educators from discussing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in the classroom. The bill also contains an added provision that could potentially mandate school personnel to notify parents or guardians if their child is LGBT-identified.
"Schools are often the one safe space where a student feels accepted and empowered to be who they are," said Brad Palmertree, Nashville resident and GLSEN Middle Tennessee co-chair. "This bill would take away that sense of security for all students in our state and create a dilemma for all school personnel."
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam admitted he found the bill unnecessary at a meeting with Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters.
"It's deeply troubling to see the reintroduction of this needless bill that would stifle any discussion of LGBT people, events or issues in school," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director. "We are even more disturbed by the added provision that sets the stage for schools to out students. This bill sends the detrimental message that Tennessee's LGBT youth are undeserving of an education in a safe and nurturing environment. We urge Tennessee to not further stigmatize LGBT students' safety, well-being and right to privacy."
LGBT students are already subject to extremely high rates of school bullying and harassment. According to a Tennessee research brief based on data from GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, nearly all (98%) LGBT students in Tennessee heard "gay" used in a negative way (e.g., "that's so gay") and nearly all (98%) heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., "fag" or "dyke") regularly at school.
GLSEN research findings also found that nearly all (92%) LGBT students in Tennessee could identify at least one school staff member supportive of LGBT students.
"My son deserves to attend a school where he feels safe and is able to receive an education without feeling less than his peers," said Knoxville resident and mother Becky Lucas. "But this bill would further distance my gay son from having any access to supportive educators in his life, creating a greater sense of anxiety and fear."
If passed, Tennessee would become the ninth state in the country to pass a "No Promo Homo" law that expressly forbids school personnel from discussing gay and transgender issues, including sexual health and HIV/AIDS awareness in school. Some of these statutes further require teachers to actively portray LGBT people in a false or inaccurate way. Currently eight states have these types of laws including Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
Learn more about safe schools legislation across the country.
GLSEN's Office of Public Policy, its Tennessee chapters, and local and statewide partners will continue to monitor and respond to developments related to the controversial piece of legislation. Please visit GLSEN's website to learn more about safe schools policy and legislation.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.