Class dismissed

Much decried by the LGBT community in Tennessee, the SB0049 bill introduced by Senator Stacey Campfield, proposes to leave out any mention of homosexuality in classrooms up to ninth grade in all public schools. Beyond the hue and cry, comfort may be found in the fact that this bill will not be applicable to private education across Tennessee, nor will it impinge upon any curricula for teenagers over the age of 15.

Still, concerns about its ramifications for teachers and students alike may appear legitimate. For Sen. Campfield, however, ''[his] bill is neutral. A teacher shall not speak in favor or against your chosen lifestyle (sic).''

''I do not think someone's sexual preference is relevant in the education of a seven- or even a twelve-year-old," he adds.

Asked about the concern raised by some that this legislation would bury public school teachers in the closet, for fear of dismissal if the truth were to be made public, he opines, ''I see no reason why a teacher's sexuality should ever be an issue unless the teacher decided to make it part of the curricula.''

He adds, ''In fact it could stop a similar situation to where a Memphis teacher outed a gay couple to a school and then called the students' parents and chastised them.''

In all fairness, Sen. Campfield seems to be standing by the conservative principle that turning down the volume on issues seen as controversial by some, will avoid uncalled-for aggravation. Moreover, when I asked him about whether he thinks this might lead to further gay bullying in schools, he retorts, ''In Tennessee we already have anti-bullying legislation. I was one of the original co-sponsors when it passed three or so years ago.''

''All students should be free of bullying," he adds. "None should be considered a 'special' class entitled to 'special treatment.' That, to me, is the acme of discrimination.''

Still, when faced with the recent case of a student at Messiah College in Pennsylvania who was harassed for being gay despite anti-harassment provisions in their code of ethics, Sen. Campfield remains silent. While similar incidents could occur – and probably have – in public schools, a naive optimism in man's heart that disregards discrimination seems to rule the day.

To be sure, Sen. Campfield's perspective rests upon a heteronormative rostrum. While it would seem common sense to leave out any talk of sexuality in children's education, the bill seems to promote it as long as it is between a man and a woman.

"The reason I left heterosexuality in the bill was to stop silly lawsuits where activists try and ban the words 'mother and father' as an endorsement of heterosexuality or make it so a teacher could no longer teach the basics of reproduction without fear of a lawsuit," Sen. Campfield explains.

Yet beyond sexuality, affection may be more relevant to the realm of childhood. Asked about why homosexual affection may be inappropriate for teachers to talk about, he declined to comment. To his credit, Sen. Campfield has managed to stand proud as a single man among a family-obsessed constituency. Like it or not, there is no question that he is a bit of a maverick standing by his convictions.

Ultimately, Sen Campfield's bill follows in the wake of a recent effort by conservatives to overhaul the public school system, most recently with Bill Frist's SCORE in Nashville and Mike Huckabee's Learning Our History cartoons at a national level. Sen. Campfield's effort is simply a socially conservative take in this wind of change.

Perhaps most importantly, it remains to be seen whether his bill will influence the way private schools are run, or whether the forces of the free market, whose consumers include same-sex families, will prevail. Indeed, it is not improbable that this private-sector model will ultimately shape the way public education is run. Unless of course, his bill is already the result of a heteronormative Christian culture endorsed by private schools in Tennessee.


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