After delays earlier in the legislative session, the so-called “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” bill moved out of a House subcommittee Wednesday afternoon.
As amended Wednesday, the bill, House Bill 0229, states that “instruction or materials” given to public school students before the ninth grade “shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.”
The amendment is identical to the one applied to legislation the Senate passed last year.
As has been the case every time the bill is scheduled to appear, the hearing room – which had to be changed to accommodate the crowd – was filled to capacity for the House Education Subcommittee’s afternoon meeting. Many in attendance wore purple shirts to signal their opposition to the bill.
Rep. Bill Dunn, the bill’s former House sponsor who brought the amendment Wednesday, said the new language is in line with current curriculum and state code. The amendment, he said, effectively makes it so that the state’s Board of Education will have to come to legislators before changing the curriculum in the future. He also tried to quell what he called the “hysteria” surrounding the bill.
“This bill [as] amended does not prohibit the use of the word ‘gay,’” he said. “It does not change the anti-bullying statute and it does not prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing issues of sexuality with a student.”
Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, reiterated Rep. Dunn’s comments, saying that the bill requires teachers to follow the curriculum and does not ban them from answering questions brought by students about human sexuality.
Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh spoke against the bill, saying he “[did] not know the purpose of bringing this legislation again at this time” and calling it a “solution looking for a problem.”
But Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis, was the most vocal Democrat Wednesday afternoon.
In a passionate defense of the legislation, he chided those who he said were demonizing people with views different from their own. He also defended “the basic right[s] of an American,” which he said included the right to “run my home, raise my children as I see fit.”