Associated Press map highlighting the state of Tennessee
Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A state senator has filed a bill that would discourage talking about homosexuality in schools, reigniting one of the Legislature's most heated debates of recent years.
GOP Sen. Stacey Campfield's measure would prohibit elementary and middle school teachers from bringing up homosexuality, and it would require guidance counselors to report to parents some conversations about their child's sexuality.
The bill, which Campfield has titled the "Classroom Protection Act," builds on the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill that failed in the state legislature last spring. Opponents already are gearing up for another fight over the measure.
"It's kind of like 'Don't Say Gay' on steroids," said Chris Sanders, chairman and president of the Tennessee Equality Project. "He's listened to the objections and ended up making it worse."
The bill would once again bar educators from leading discussions about homosexuality before high school, though it would let teachers answer questions from students in the classroom and it would let school counselors talk about the subject with students one-on-one.
"That was never the intent, to keep a kid from speaking to a counselor," Campbell said.
The new bill also adds a requirement that counselors inform the parents or guardians of the student if they determine that issues related to the child's sexuality "present immediate and urgent safety issues." The bill does not define what those issues are, but Campfield said almost any sexual act would qualify.
"Being gay is not a dangerous activity," he said. "The act of homosexuality is very dangerous to someone's health and safety."
The bill makes an exception for cases involving sexual abuse by a parent or legal guardian.
Sanders said that provision could discourage a student from speaking with counselors about their sexual orientation or bullying that might stem from it.
Sanders said the name of the bill itself -- which Campfield added this year because he was unhappy with the "Don't Say Gay" name chosen for the last version by its opponents -- suggests a bias against gays and lesbians.
"Protection from who?" Sanders asked.
The "Don't Say Gay" bill passed the state Senate in 2011 and passed several committees in the state House of Representatives, but it was never brought to a vote on the House floor.
The bill nonetheless earned Campfield national notoriety, prompting a debate as far away as his former high school in upstate New York over whether to remove his picture from its wall of fame.
The latest version has already drawn the attention of liberal blogs, though Campfield himself has been making TV appearances for another measure he has introduced --a bill to tie families' welfare payments to the performance of their children in school.