"All people are not heterosexual. Heterosexuality is not superior and is not the norm by which all other sexual orientation and gender identities are measured." --Burnaby, B.C. Schools Draft Policy #5.45

Monday, May 30, 2011

SB 49 Passes the Tennessee Senate

On May 20th, the Tennessee Senate passed Senate Bill 49, known in the media as the "Don't Say Gay Bill".  The bill would limit sexual education in Tennessee elementary and middle schools exclusively to heterosexuality.  

The bill was passed with an amendment ("Amendment 5") that altered the language from "heterosexuality" to "natural human reproduction science".  The new phrase was argued to be narrower, and would even further limit the scope of what could be taught, excluding such things as "artificial insemination".  

Previously:  "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality."

As passed: "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.  The provisions of this subdivision shall also apply to a group or organization that provides instruction in natural human reproduction science in public elementary or middle schools."

The new language (though vague) when combined with the legislature's expressed intent on its meaning, would exclude educational material mentioning transgender people as well as gay people.

My paraphrase: Strictly the biological facts.  Don't say gay.  Don't say transgender.
Senator Andy Berke from Chattanooga pointed out that sex education in elementary and middle schools not approved both by the state board of education and the local school board is currently a misdemeanor under a different law (Tennessee Statute 49-6-1005). He asked if SB 49 would inadvertently permit "age inappropriate" heterosexual sex education where this previous law had forbidden it.  Senator Stacey Campfield, the sponsor of SB 49, reassured him it wouldn't.  He said it would merely clarify what can be taught, when otherwise permitted by the state and local boards of education.

Other senators worried that the new language in Amendment 5 was so narrow it would unintentionally bar the teaching of abstinence and sexual ethics.  

Here is 49-6-1005:

(a) It is unlawful for any person in any manner to teach courses in sex education pertaining to homo sapiens in the public, elementary, junior high or high schools in this state unless the courses are approved by the state board of education and the local school board involved, and taught by qualified instructors as determined by the local school board involved. Any such course in sex education shall, in addition to teaching facts concerning human reproduction, hygiene and health concerns, include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years. With respect to sex education courses otherwise offered in accordance with the requirements of this subsection (a), no instructor shall be construed to be in violation of this section for answering in good faith any question, or series of questions, germane and material to the course, asked of the instructor and initiated by a student or students enrolled in the course.

(b) This section shall not apply to general high school courses in biology, physiology, health, physical education or home economics taught to classes. 

(c) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

The page for SB 49 in the Tennessee Legislature's well-organized site, here.

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