O’Brien: Tennessee’s proposed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law sets back gay rights

Posted by Baylea O'Brien on Sunday, May. 8 at 5:47 pm.

In every state in the U.S., there are laws that do not make much sense to anyone.

Although innocuous, in Oregon, it is illegal to eat ice cream on Sundays, and one is not allowed to test his or her physical endurance while driving a car on the highway.

These laws are no longer enforced, but even today there are senseless, if not unjust and hurtful, bills threatening to pass through state governments across the nation.

Let’s use Tennessee as an example.

This southern state is notoriously conservative. It even has a law on the books prohibiting interracial marriages, which we can only hope doesn’t get enforced.

Now, Senator Stacey Campfield is trying to pass a bill through the Tennessee government that would make discussing homosexuality before ninth grade illegal  in public schools. It has unfortunately been coined the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Aside from being unconstitutional, the bill discriminates against the homosexual community and shows a reluctance to accept minority communities.

Of course, this isn’t Sen. Campfield’s first attempt to sponsor an outlandish piece of legislation. Campfield has purposed bills that would make guns legal on college campuses and death certificates for aborted fetuses.

From his previous track record, this new initiative does not stray far from the beaten path.

So, in the eyes of Tennessee lawmakers, what are the benefits of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill?

Well, homosexuality would be utterly taboo for children in kindergarten through ninth grade. If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist, right?

Wrong, Tennessee. The bill alienates children who have homosexual parents, children who may be homosexual themselves, and the teachers who are unable to counsel or support children with these matters.

That being said, the bill reinforces those who believe homosexuality is a nurture-driven characteristic. If children aren’t exposed to the subject in school, they are less likely to become homosexual — or so Tennessee thinks.

If this piece of legislature were to pass, it would be a step back for our entire country. It would be a step from equality, freedom of speech, and the most important component, tolerance.

Johnmichael Lahtinen, the community liaison for the University of Oregon’s LGBTQA, was shocked when he first heard about the bill. As a member of the queer community, Lahtinen and the LGBTQA work to spread awareness and bridge understanding through the University campus.

But even outside of campus, Lahtinen has had run-ins with people who are not tolerant of homosexuality. He feels safe in the University community because if a hate crime is committed, he knows it will be dealt with immediately, and not swept aside.

Even in Oregon, a largely liberal state and a front runner in liberal policies, some people are still unwilling to accept the queer community.

Imagine being in Tennessee.

“Education is the most important thing for kids,” Lahtinen said, “ [the bill] would immediately put a bias on students when they are forming their opinions.”

As Lahtinen pointed out, not being able to talk about such important topics will just cause students more confusion and mental strain.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill affects the entire gay community. It is time for Tennessee to modernize their thinking and realize that restricting resources about homosexuality is harmful not just to an entire community, but to an entire country.

We will never succeed in equality if states continue to press oppress certain groups based on differences.

“People have rights to be who they are, and people need to learn that being normal is being different,” Lahtinen said.