Stacey Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill passes through committee in TN State Senate

Posted on May 3, 2011

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Republican Tennessee State Senator, Stacey Campfield

(Scroll down for updates)

Stacey Campfield, the Republican State Senator from Tennessee’s 7th district, has been trying to push his “Don’t Say Gay” bill through the State Legislature for the last seven years.  The bill would disallow public school teachers in grades K-8 from mentioning homosexuality or anything that could be considered non-heterosexual sexuality.  Recently, due to the fact that Republicans have gained control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill has passed through the Senate Education Committee and is set to hit the Senate floor for debate this month.

Campfield claims that his bill is in fact neutral, as it does not say teachers should promote homosexuality or discourage it, rather the bill simply bans all discussion of it in classrooms.  Campfield himself, however, has in the past likened homosexuality to bestiality and believes that homosexuality is a “learned behavior”.

Prior to the clause that effectively bans any discussion of homosexuality in schools, the bill first states:

The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home. Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.

This claim of “human sexuality” being too complex for young children to grasp raises the question:  if sexuality in general is not a proper topic of discussion in schools, why isn’t the topic of heterosexuality banned as well?  Campfield has expressed publicly that he believes homosexuality in the classroom could possibly encourage children to engage in homosexual behavior, but he does not seem to believe the same is true of heterosexuality, otherwise he would be trying to ban all sex education in schools.

Although “Don’t Say Gay” has brought national attention to Campfield, it is not the first time he has involved himself in controversy.  Up until now, Campfield was best known in Tennessee state politics for being the only white legislator ever to attempt to join the state’s Black Legislative Caucus.  After leaders of the caucus denied his request for membership, Campfield said the group was more racist than the KKK, claiming that the Klan “doesn’t even ban members by race.”

This is also not the first time Campfield has sponsored contentious legislation.  In 2007 he sponsored a bill that would have required physicians to issue death certificates for aborted fetuses.  Campfield claimed that he championed the legislation because it would have allowed Tennesseans to see exactly how many abortions were performed per year in the state.  But the state’s Office of Vital Records already records this information and makes it publicly available, so it is more likely that Campfield proposed the legislation because he wanted records of the identities of women who get abortions to be made public information.

Another bill Campfield is sponsoring this year would force teachers to expressly teach American Exceptionalism in social studies and history classes.  Basically, it would oblige educators to move away from attempting to be objective and toward promoting a more pro-American, nationalistic, and intentionally biased interpretation of world history:

Students shall be informed of the nature of America which makes it an exception differentiated by its behavior, influence and contributions from the other nations of the world; and to show them why it is a positive difference, that has led the world to improvements in science, agriculture, economics, education, justice, human rights, the standard of living, and liberty not only within our borders, but across the world.

The language of the bill reads like a course curriculum, bullet-pointing each item of information that must be taught.  The bill would also require teachers to not only teach students about the Constitution, but to promote a radical Originalist interpretation of it.  The bill states, “The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights are available for all to read today, and still apply in exactly the words they originally contained in simple English.”  Of course, this assertion is false, as it does not account for the clause in the original Constitution that called for each slave to be counted as 3/5 of a person, a provision that no longer applies today.

Another piece of legislation Campfield has been pushing in 2011 is a bill that would permit all full-time faculty and staff at public colleges to carry firearms on campus.  Although the bill does not allow students to carry firearms, Campfield has stated that his ultimate goal is to extend concealed carry rights to students as well.

There is a common theme in all of these Campfield-sponsored bills:  regardless of whether or not they are good policy or bad policy, they all address issues that are not all that important to the people within the institutions they effect.  Since becoming a member of the Tennessee State Legislature, Campfield has shown a desire not to improve institutions in the state of Tennessee, but rather to please his ultra-right constituents and advance his extreme political ideology by purposefully picking fights over potently divisive issues.  Doctors and women in general do not wish to see death-certficates written for aborted fetuses, but pro-life voters and Campfield support this policy because they wish to inspire shame in those who partake in abortions.  Educators and most parents do not feel that public school curriculum is anti-American or anti-Constitution, but Tea Partiers and Toby Keith listeners assume that it is, meaning that Campfield can score political points by ostensibly trying to “fix the problem”.  On college campuses, the topic of concealed carry on campus has long been a non-issue, but by exploiting the Virginia Tech shooting of four years ago, the NRA and a group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus have succeeded in lobbying 22 state legislatures to consider passing laws that would allow faculty and/or students to carry guns.  And, with regard to “Don’t Say Gay”, homosexuality is not a typical topic of discussion in elementary school classrooms and it is certainly not encouraged by educators, yet Campfield still hopes to please religious zealots by attempting to indirectly chastise homosexuals by way of pushing blatantly prejudiced legislation.

Stacey Campfield has come up with a number of explanations for his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, all of which sound rather amicable in nature but are clearly smokescreens.  For instance, he has stated that the law would allow teachers to spend more time on teaching kids “the basics, like arithmetic,” as though homosexual education is taking up so much class time that it can be considered the cause of Tennessee students’ low math scores on standardized tests.  Perhaps if Stacey Campfield would quit pushing to pass needless and potentially harmful bills, he and the rest of the State Legislature would have more time to focus on the basics as well, like actual governing.

UPDATE (05/21/11):  “Don’t Say Gay” bill passes Tenn. State Senate

Due to the controversy over this bill, Republicans removed the language that banned “instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” and replaced it with the following:  “Instruction in elementary and middle schools K-8 shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.”

Democrat Tim Barnes wondered why the word “natural” was in the text.  “I am unaware of any unnatural human reproduction,” he said.  “It seems to me that word is superfluous.”

On the floor, Republican Kerry Roberts defended the language, saying that it was added so as to prevent the teaching of material about artificial insemination.  Of course, this was a smokescreen.  Stacey Campfield himself said to reporters afterwards, “Homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce.”  He went on to gloat, “I got what I wanted.”

Campfield and his cohorts made sure to stay away from mentioning anything about homosexuals in the floor debate and instead tried to focus the body’s attention on their efforts to “clarify” existing laws.  On the contrary, if this bill is made law, they may in fact succeed in rendering sex-education laws in Tennessee even more ambiguous than they already are.  Currently it is illegal for teachers to teach sex-education of any sort in grades K-8, unless approved by the Board of Education.  Furthermore, there have been no requests to the Board by any teachers to approve sex-ed material.  Now, with the new wording, “Instruction… shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science,” teachers would seem to have a free pass to teach Kindergarteners about sex without approval from any higher authority (as long as they limit it to “natural reproduction science”).  So in an attempt to placate their fanatically religious, anti-gay base in the face of severe criticism from centrists, Republicans may have ended up, as Democrat Andy Berke put it, “liberalizing the ability to teach age-inappropriate materials in K-8 schools.”

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