NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students is once again advancing in the House even though opponents insist it's unnecessary.
The measure, known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, passed the House Education Committee 8-7 on Tuesday. In a confusing sequence of events, the proposal initially failed on a voice vote, but a roll call vote was requested and the measure advanced.
The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade. The proposal had been put aside for a measure that would require "family life education" curricula taught in schools to be abstinence-centered.
But the "Don't Say Gay" bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley said he didn't believe the other proposal emphasized eliminating "alternative lifestyle discussion."
The Hohenwald Republican said a survey of his district showed "well over 95 percent ... don't want homosexuality discussed in those grade levels."
"So that's what pushed me over the line to go ahead with the bill," Hensley said.
He said his bill was amended to allow students to ask teachers or guidance counselors questions about alternative lifestyles, but "teachers can't teach that as an acceptable lifestyle."
Hensley said the amendment should pacify those concerned the proposal would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.
Nevertheless, others say the overall legislation is not necessary because state education officials have said alternative lifestyle discussions are already banned from the curricula.
"I agree that these are issues that do not need to be put in front elementary children," said Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis. "However, officials say this is already state policy. And because it's policy already, there was just no point in mudding the water."
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters agreed.
"It's a solution in search of a problem," he said. "The current curriculum is very adequate in this area. I think it's being used more for political purposes than it is for educational reasons."
The companion bill passed the Senate 19-10 last year.