After a two year hiatus, Tennessee is once again taking a look at a "Don't Say Gay" bill, this one with new and improved discriminatory provisions, including requiring teachers and school counselors to out LGBT students to their parents.
The potential for harm to LGBT students, and students with LGBT parents, is obvious. It's easy to see how the child of LGBT parents could even be forbidden from talking about their home life in any way that might require comment from a teacher, such as in a school report or show & tell. I won't even get started on the compulsory outing provision, as many others in the LGBT media have already taken that on.
So who then does this bill benefit?
The Right would have us believe that this sort of legislation ensures that challenging social issues are addressed by parents rather than educators. It's the same sort of flawed reasoning that has given us the catastrophic public health failure that is abstinence-only education.
In reality however, this bill only protects one class of people: school bullies. You see, if teachers saying anything "inconsistent with natural human reproduction" is prohibited, it becomes extremely challenging for educators to respond to the abuse of students who are, or are perceived to be LGBT. After all, if saying that there's nothing wrong with being LGBT could cost a teacher their job, how can they come to the defense of a bullied LGBT kid?
I've known Christians who felt that it was their child's protected religious freedom (and moral duty) to aggressively attempt to "argue" LGBT students out of their sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of how this impacted the other student. It's hard to imagine that these sorts of encounters aren't in the mind of the bill's creators.
Beyond that scenario though, it's an indisputable fact that LGBT students are routinely targeted for harassment in school, and this bill would in essence give bullies carte blanche to intimidate, harass, and abuse their fellow students so long as they choose LGBT kids as their targets.
Looking past the acute threat this bill poses to our children, there's also the broader idea that when we declare something unspeakable, we make it shameful.
Discussion of the "Don't Say Gay" bill always reminds me of an incident from my young childhood:
I was raised in a non-Christian faith, and as such, knew the truth of Santa Clause, although I was expressly forbidden from ever disclosing that knowledge to another child (and I never did). One day during an after-school program when I was in kindergarden, another child asked what Santa had brought me for Christmas. I said simply that I was [my milk religion] and so Santa didn't bring me presents. This scandalized the other child who went running to the teacher to tell her that I was such a bad boy that Santa wouldn't come to my house.
What happened next stands out in my mind even today. The teacher angrily grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the corner of the room, whereupon she scolded me, saying something to the effect of "we don't talk about that sort of thing," before telling me to go back and tell the other kid that I was making things up, and that Santa had in fact brought me gifts for Christmas.
Even at that young age, I knew that there was something seriously wrong with what she was saying, and telling me to say. Yet I felt ashamed nonetheless. In fact, it's my very first memory of being ashamed of belonging to my milk religion, rather than to Christianity. I could not understand why she was angry at me expressing a simple truth about my lived experience.
Some variation on that experience of mine is precisely what LGBT children and the children of LGBT parents will be subjected to if this odious bill should become law. The fact that "Don't Say Gay" was defeated once before is reason for hope. By we need to remember not to confuse being hopeful with being complacent. Especially when our children are at stake.
And now, here's what you need to know today: