On May 20, 2011, a bill was passed in Tennessee that would forbid elementary and middle school teachers from discussing homosexuality within classes. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as it was called throughout the media, was sponsored by Republican Senator Stacey Campfield, and despite numerous protests and outcries, passed 6-3 in the Tennessee Senate. Proponents claimed that discussing homosexuality to young children would convert them to the lifestyle and wouldn’t allow parents the choice to discuss such a hot topic with students at home. However, the larger issue is that the passage of this bill means many LGBT young people will not be getting the reproductive and sexual education needed to help them accept their identities.
Many of us remember middle school as a tumultuous time when our hormones were raging and we had more self-esteem issues than we knew what to do with. We were coming to terms with ourselves as teenagers, and for some, also the realization that we were gay. Sexual education classes, which were often separated by gender, gave us valuable knowledge and insight into our bodies and our mental well-being, even if they caused giggles at the sight of bananas and condoms. With the passage of this bill, teachers would no longer be able to address LGBT issues within the classroom or discuss critical health and social information for students. As many opponents have argued, and many people I’ve spoken with have agreed on, this bill acts as yet another form of discrimination.
Not allowing students, straight, LGBT, or otherwise, to have access to all of the necessary health and social information only leaves students feeling as if they have to hide their identities or not be able to fully express who they are simply because lawmakers think they know what is best for the youth of this country. Because an LGBT student lacks the needed information or has questions that go unanswered, this could lead to students finding alternative ways to answer their questions or solve their problems.
Not giving students all of the health knowledge that they need to make safe decisions about their bodies, their lives, and their sexuality only serves to make students feel ashamed and isolated if they are different from their peers. As an educator, I want my students to have all of the information to digest as they will, not give them the tiny morsels that higher-ups, who have absolutely no business interfering with education, grant us permission to toss their way. I truly hope the passage of this bill is challenged by those who have the power and authority to do so, because otherwise we are only hurting those students who need it the most.