Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield has proposed legislation that would require a counselor or other school official who learns that a student has engaged in homosexual activity to report this information to the student’s parents. But for the second time in two years, Campfield appears to have introduced a bill on homosexuality his governor doesn’t like.
The language of Campfield’s Senate Bill 234, called the “Classroom Protection Act,” states that counselors, in addition to principals, assistant principals, and nurses, shall notify the parents or guardians of a student “whose circumstances present immediate and urgent safety issues involving human sexuality.” Campfield, a Republican, told reporters this week that the “urgent safety issues” include homosexual activity by students.
In a separate section of the legislation, the bill requires that school officials counseling a student “who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person” also notify parents or guardians about this. If that language can be interpreted to mean that homosexual activity would be classified as also “injurious” to physical or mental health, then it appears to further expand the responsibilities of school officials. Presumably they would have to report students who may be engaging in such activity, although it’s not entirely clear strictly from the bill’s language.
How exactly officials would be allowed to determine that students might be engaging in such activity, or are “at risk” of doing so, is left unsaid. (Classroom teachers are not specifically mentioned in the two relevant sections of the bill.)
Not surprisingly, Campfield’s legislation has drawn national media attention, with headlines reporting that his bill would require school officials to essentially “out” gay students. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has reported distanced himself from the bill, saying it looked similar to a previous bill the senator had introduced.
That’s a reference to 2011, when Campfield introduced Senate Bill 49, quickly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would have prohibited discussion of homosexuality in school for K-8 students. In a preview of his position this year, Haslam announced that he did not support the 2011 bill, which ultimately failed to make it to Haslam’s desk.
“Schools are often the one safe space where a student feels accepted and empowered to be who they are,” said Brad Palmertree, Nashville resident and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Middle Tennessee Co-chair, in a statement. “This bill would take away that sense of security for all students in our state and create a dilemma for all school personnel.” (GLSEN is based in New York City.)
However, supporters of the 2011 bill said it would merely provide guidance to teachers on a “potentially explosive” topic.
In a radio interview with Michelangelo Signorile last year (via the Daily Beast), for example, Campfield said: “My understanding is that it is virtually—not completely, but virtually—impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex. Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community—it was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men...It was an airline pilot, I believe.”
He also told Signorile regarding homosexuality, “There are sexually confused children who could be pushed into a lifestyle that I don’t think is appropriate with them.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.