It may be drawing national attention, but a state lawmaker's idea to require school officials to tell parents if a child they counsel is engaging in homosexual activity isn't getting much traction with Gov. Bill Haslam.
Haslam told Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters Thursday that the legislation from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is a variation of the conservative firebrand's previous so-called "don't say gay" legislation.
"I know it's kind of a revised form of a bill that came up last year," Haslam said. "At the time I didn't feel the bill last year was needed, and I don't really think this one is needed either."
Campfield defended his bill this week, telling the Knoxville News Sentinel "it's ridiculous to say we should shield parents from that information" about homosexual activity, noting it can be dangerous because of AIDs and sexually-transmitted disease.
"I think it's important that, if they're doing something that's potentially dangerous or life-threatening, that you should get parents involved," he said.
Haslam said when he's out speaking to people or groups like the Chattanooga Rotary Club, which he addressed earlier Thursday, "those aren't the questions people ask me about, they're not. People do ask me about what are you doing to bring more jobs here, what are you doing so our kids aren't 40th in education."
Jonathan Cole with the Tennessee Equality Project, a gay rights group, said Campfield's bill "would force educators to 'out' students to their parents and risk family rejection before a student is ready to deal with issues of coming out."
The gay rights group has fought previous versions of Campfield's "don't say gay" bill, which effectively seeks to ban classroom discussion of gay sex through eighth grade. The current legislation does that as well. While it doesn't mention homosexuality, it refers to behavior "inconsistent with natural human reproduction."
It then delves into counseling, saying the measure wouldn't prevent a counselor, nurse, principal or assistant principal "from responding appropriately to a student whose circumstances present immediate and urgent safety issues involving human sexuality.
"Parents or legal guardians of such students shall be notified as soon as practicable of the circumstances requiring intervention" except in cases where the adults are suspected of abuse.
Saying his group is concerned about what he called Campfield's "homophobia, pathological obsession with gay people," Cole said "we've come to believe that if his personal demons aren't addressed, Sen. Campfield's issues will harm Tennessee's youth."
So, Cole said in a news release, the group is creating a "Stacey Campfield Counseling Fund" to address what gays believes are the senator's unresolved issues.
"We think that some good therapy could bring the senator to his senses and end attempts to legislate homophobic policies in the public schools of Tennessee," Cole said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...