Michelle Rhee, John Ragan
Group Claims It Didn't Know Reformer of the Year Was 'Don't Say Gay' Sponsor

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com May 01 2013 2:18 PM ET

One of the Tennessee lawmakers who sponsored the "Don't Say Gay" bill was honored as Reformer of the Year by an education activism group — which now says it didn't know about his record.

The group was founded by former D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, and its legislative director issued a statement Monday that attempted to put some distance between it and state representative John Ragan.

Tim Melton claimed the group never backed "Don't Say Gay" and honored Ragan last year "because of his support of several education policies for which we advocate." The list included an overhaul of teacher tenure, limits on the number of charter schools, and revised standards that let "experienced professionals" teach science and math instead of certified teachers.

Melton called the failed "Don't Say Gay" bill "an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids."

"When it comes to this kind of legislation, StudentsFirst is clear that we stand strongly opposed to policies, statements, or actions that could create an unsafe or unwelcoming environment for any student in any school," he wrote.

Students First was responding to public pressure first exerted by LGBT activist Scott Wooledge, who discovered that not only had Students First honored Ragan, but also it donated more than $6,000 to his campaign and included a section on its website directing followers to also make donations. That page was removed this week after Wooledge pointed out on Twitter that it was still up, despite the group's statement.

Salon points out the questionable timeline being claimed by Students First. The group seems to imply the award was given before Ragan sponsored "Don't Say Gay," but Salon points out that isn't the case.

Washington Monthly notes that the group's policy director, Eric Lerum, tweeted that Students First “wouldn’t have endorsed had we known.” The "Don't Say Gay" bill has failed repeatedly. If it ever passed, teachers would be prevented any mention of homosexuality in sex education classes or elsewhere until the ninth grade. The latest incarnation also included a provision requiring teachers to out gay students to their parents.