KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Protesters at a Knoxville rally against a state bill that would forbid the mention of homosexuality to elementary and middle school students see a link between the proposal and the bullying of gay and lesbian students.
The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that about 170 people attended an “It’s OK to Say Gay Rally” Sunday where students spoke of being bullied because of their sexual orientation.
The event, which was organized by the Tennessee Equality Project Foundation’s Safe Schools Committee, was a response to the state senate passing the proposal that has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill on Friday.
Some opponents of the bill fear that the proposal would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.
“Every student should be safe at school,” rally organizer Devon Hicks told the crowd at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. “Being gay shouldn’t be a concern for them.”
He spoke of a recent Columbia University study that found that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are more than five times as likely to attempt suicide compared with their heterosexual peers. The study also found that gay teens were 25 percent less likely to try to commit suicide in a supportive environment.
Leah Ewing, a 17-year-old rising senior at Oak Ridge High School, told the crowd of her own experiences.
“A lot of name-calling and a lot of threats,” Ewing said. “You write out a harassment form and that’s about it – it doesn’t go anywhere, it just sits in a file.”
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, limits all sexually-related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Democrats claim the bill is merely aimed at scoring political points because current law already limits school lessons to the approved “family life curriculum,” which does not cover homosexuality.
A vote in the House has been delayed for a year.