Good news and bad news out of Tennessee yesterday: “Don’t Say Gay” bill advances, Knoxville non-discrimination ordinance too
April 18, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Last week I wrote about a non-discrimination ordinance that was being introduced in Knoxville, Tennessee. It would protect city government employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As I said then, this is big news in the state, not only because it’s a conservative region replete with anti-LGBT legislators coming up with every anti-LGBT proposal someone could think of – it’s also big news because LGBT organizations in the state are pressing on with these bills despite the regressive law known as “HB600” that stripped cities and localities of their LGBT non-discrimination protections. This ordinance reaches an area not covered by HB600.
The ordinance got its first of two readings yesterday, and passed unanimously with no nays and no discussion. After the upcoming reading the ordinance will take effect. This is a particularly interesting bit of news on the ordinance:
In a rare bit of only-in-Knoxville irony, one of the most active supporters of the non-discrimination ordinance is a close relative of gay-bashing state Sen. Stacey Campfield, whose sponsorship of the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill and wacky theories about the origin of AIDS (“some guy screwing a monkey…”) have embarrassed Tennesseans and gotten Campfield an overdose of national attention.
Unfortunately, last week the bill that would have repealed HB600 and allowed more non-discrimination measures to be adopted – like the former contractor non-discrimination ordinance in Nashville that was effectively repealed by HB600 – failed in committee. Legislators will bring it up again. Still, this is proof that despite setbacks it’s possible to win victories, however limited, in regressive areas. Chris Sanders, Nashville Committee Chair for Tennessee Equality Project, tells me that progress is being made for LGBT people in Tennessee’s cities, “Yesterday was a perfect example of what we’re facing in Tennessee–increasingly welcoming cities and a hostile Legislature. By a unanimous vote, the Knoxville City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance for city government employees protecting them from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and disability–a positive, unifying step for one of our largest cities. It’s quite a contrast to the politics of division coming from the majority in the Legislature.”
Sanders was referring to yesterday’s news that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, essentially banning discussions of gays and lesbians in elementary and middle school by only allowing discussions of sexual activity related to “natural human reproduction”, is advancing. By a very narrow vote, 8-7, it passed out of committee. It’s yet another in a long line of bills in Tennessee designed to target the LGBT community unnecessarily. This is already banned by the State Board of Education, but legislators felt the need to go ahead and do it anyway. Just as they targeted transgender Tennesseeans by first having a law in place that denies them the right to change their birth certificate to conform to their gender and then proposing a new law that says they must use public bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate. The goal of the Tennessee General Assembly seems to be to create Catch-22s for LGBT Tennesseans and keep them outside the protection of state and local laws.
Sanders says, “By two very close votes, the Don’t Say Gay bill advanced from the House Education Committee to Calendar and Rules to the embarrassment of our state. It’s an incredible waste of time for a state that has huge educational challenges.”
The bill advances to the House Calendar and Rules Committee now where it can either be voted on or referred back to the House Education Committee.
The state senate did pass a compromise bill that keeps Gay-Straight Alliances in Tennessee schools. Hopefully the legislature will begin to keep pace with the progress being made in Tennessee cities.