Tennessee’s elementary and middle school teachers could face more pressure not to talk about homosexuality with their students next year after the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill cleared a House education committee Tuesday.
Some Republican leaders have questioned the need for House Bill 229, which prevents the teaching of alternative lifestyles, noting that it is already illegal under state law to teach sex education in grades K-8.
House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, voted against the measure, but it passed on an 8-7 vote and goes to the calendar committee before a floor vote.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and others argued that outside groups and some teachers slip those conversations in, and the bill serves as an accountability reminder.
“I have two children — in the third- and fourth-grade — and don’t want them to be exposed to things I don’t agree with,” Hensley said. “… Even though the state board disallows this now, I’m afraid it does happen, and sex education is talked about in a way that it is acceptable.”
Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who voted for the bill, said he’s seen documentation that outside groups are entering classrooms at the invitation of principals and teachers and not staying within the curriculum guidelines.
“And they should,” he said after the vote.
Schools caught in violation of the state’s sex education policies can have state money withheld, and teachers face a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail, according to state law. The bill passed the Senate last year.