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Tennessee Lawmaker Revives State's 'Don't Say Gay' Bill for Schools

Bruce Griffey

A Tennessee lawmaker says if his Christian beliefs can’t be taught in schools, there shouldn’t be discussion of LGBTQ+ topics either.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bills are getting a lot of national attention, but Tennessee state Rep. Bruce Griffey is passionately promoting similar legislation that he’s sponsoring.

“The state of Tennessee is not allowed to teach my daughters Christian values that I think are important and they should learn, so I teach those at home,” Griffey, a Republican, recently told Tennessee TV station WMC. “So if those are not part of the school curriculum, I don’t see how LGBTQ and other issues and social lifestyles should be part of the curriculum.”

“I’ve had parents complain about a lot of the LGBTQ issues being brought up discussed and promoted in schools,” he added.

His legislation, House Bill 800, would keep public schools from using textbooks or other materials that “promote, normalize, support or address LGBT issues or lifestyle.”

Tennessee lawmakers have tried several times to pass such a bill and have failed. Bills to this effect came up in 2011 and 2013 but didn’t pass, and Griffey’s bill was put on hold last year because of the pandemic. But now he’s out working on it, and it’s part of a spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation the state is considering, including one bill that would restrict gender-affirming care for minors and one that would allow teachers and other school staffers to disregard students’ preferred pronouns.

The state saw five anti-LGBTQ+ bills become law last year, including a ban on transgender student athletes competing under their gender identity, and this year looks to be even worse, Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, tells The Advocate.

“The 2022 legislative session has brought the most discriminatory bills ever,” he says in a email. “Attacks on gender-affirming care, trans athletes, and LGBTQ materials in schools are themes that connect this year’s bills to previous sessions. We also face new attacks on student pronouns with a bill allowing school personnel to disregard them, which is nothing short of state-sanctioned bullying. Given the number of bills that passed last year, we have to treat them all as if they could advance. So we have steps that advocates can take each week of the session. An easy way to find them is on Twitter.”

The Democratic Party has also warned that the Florida bill is no "isolated action," tweeting Thursday: "Across the country, we're seeing Republican leaders take action to try and regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be." Advocates had previously noted that Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bills would be bellweathers for other states, and the success there could encourage other politicians to make similar moves in their states.

For Tennessee, a list of the pending bills is available on the Tennessee Equality Project's website.

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