It’s the love that dare not speak its name—especially if you’re in Tennessee, where it could land you in jail.
The state’s Senate just passed a bill that would make it illegal to teach about homosexuality in public schools from kindergarten through 8th grade. No gay-marriage chatter. No gay-rights banter. No gay gayness of any gay sort.
Dubbed the “Don’t Say ‘Gay’ Bill” by opponents, the measure insists that any instruction or materials provided to students on the subject of sexuality must be “limited exclusively to natural reproductive science.” Teachers who violate the rule could be fined up to $50 and sentenced to as many as 30 days behind bars.
Supporters say the bill allows parents, rather than teachers, to decide when and what (and, er, if?) their children learn about homosexuality. As if they didn’t actually learn all they need to know from watching Modern Family.
But to me, the whole gay gag just looks like a bunch of uptight Republicans trying to squash a squirrelly little slice of reality that makes them terribly uncomfortable. And maybe just the slightest bit tingly.
Similar to the military’s misguided and recently repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy—or even the Hogwarts posse’s reluctance to speak Lord Voldemort’s name—this bill assumes that if you don’t talk about something, it will go quietly away. You can almost see the poor, terrified lawmakers skipping maniacally around the halls of the capitol, fingers jammed in their ears, singing, “La la la, I can’t hear you, gays! La la la …!”
Apart from being profoundly silly, the measure is also utterly unnecessary. “Gay lessons” aren’t part of any grade-school or middle-school curriculum. Third-graders don’t analyze the gender identity of Judy Moody. Seventh-graders don’t delve into the homoerotic subtext of Huckleberry Finn, although maybe they should. If the subject comes up, though (I’m looking at you, Oscar Wilde), shouldn’t it be addressed?
If this bill is approved when the House finally votes on it next year, Tennessee will be the first state to have such a law. (According to the Associated Press, California and Washington both struck down similar bills within the past decade.) But it wouldn’t be the first to censor school curricula; raise your hand if you got a prettified version of the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. And some states—are you kidding me?—still aren’t sure whether to allow evolution theory into textbooks.
The worst thing about this bill is that it’s dangerous. Outlawing the discussion of any subject sends a clear message that the subject is unacceptable and doesn’t belong at school. Questioning your sexuality? Don’t bring that freaky burden to class. Have two moms at home? Keep it to yourself, kids.
Perhaps Tennessee lawmakers have been too busy overturning Nashville’s new gay-friendly anti-discrimination ordinance (oh, yes, they did) to notice that gay teens in this country have it lousy. Most are bullied, many are depressed, and some have killed themselves as a result. While everyone from President Obama to Ke$ha is making “It Gets Better” videos to encourage gay teens to be optimistic about their futures, the great Volunteer State (what kind of a nickname …?) is telling students, “Sorry, It Gets Way Worse Before It Gets Better.”
If these lawmakers had been better educated themselves—had been drawn into a smart and safe discussion about homosexuality back when their minds were still open—maybe they’d be more concerned with educating kids than sheltering them. More determined to hush hate speech than to muffle knowledge.
I don’t know how to reverse ignorance and intolerance. But I do know this: They don’t go away just because we ignore them.