Tennessee's "Don't Say Gay" bill is back and now this time it might force school officials to "out" any students who they suspect might be gay. In the face of much criticism, the bill's sponsor has unleashed one homophobic remark after another.
By now the Tennessee bill, which has been nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is pretty famous. That’s not surprising because it has been introduced every year for at least seven years. Though the wording seems to differ each time it is introduced, the basic premise is always the same: teachers are prohibited from discussing “any sexuality other than heterosexuality” in grades K through 8. Each time it’s introduced the bill meets with both praise and contempt. Some say it would keep inappropriate topics away from innocent young children while others say it is blatant discrimination and censorship.
Last year’s version of the bill was never put to a vote by the General Assembly but one of its sponsored warned that it would be taken up again if it turned out that “alternative lifestyles” were being promoted in the school.
Perhaps the sponsor has found evidence of such “promotion” because the bill is back and it’s worse than before. Once again called the “Classroom Protection Act,” the 2013 version states:
At grade levels pre-K through eight (pre-K-8), any such classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction shall be classified as inappropriate for the intended student audience and, therefore, shall be prohibited.
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While this provision is clearly subject to interpretation, many see this as code for forcing schools to “out” any kid they suspect of being gay to his or her parents. Though the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Senator Stacey Campfield, has said the bill is not trying to single out anyone’s sexual identity, he has made so many outrageous and homophobic comments in the press in the past few weeks that it’s hard to think anything but the worst.
“Being gay is not a dangerous activity. The act of homosexuality is very dangerous to someone’s health and safety.”
On February 1st he called into TMZ and called LGBT advocates “the biggest bullies in the world” and said he wished the gay community would “…quit trying to ram it down everybody’s throats… and quit pushing it on everyone. Just leave us alone.”
When the TMZ host asked him why not teach young people how to protect themselves if they are going to engage in homosexual acts anyway, Campfield compared homosexuality to heroin use, saying:
“You know, you could say the same thing about kids who are shooting heroin. We need to show them the best ways to shoot up. No, we don’t. Why do we have to hypersexualize little children? Why can’t we just let little kids be little kids for a while?”
During that interview, Campfield also explained that HIV rates are so high in Africa because “they are really into sodomy” and that it is virtually impossible to get HIV during heterosexual sex. (Wow.)
And Huffington Post reports that using the handle The__Sen, Campfield replied to a commenter on the Knoxville News Sentinel’s website who opposed the bill’s suggestion that schools should contact parents by saying:
“Just so I have this straight, you want me to make it so if a school catches one 12-year-old boy providing unprotected sex in the bathroom to five other boys that activity would not be reported to the parents right?”
Such homophobic rants are not new for Senator Campfield. According to the Gay Star News he has in the past called homosexuality a “learned behavior” and compared it to bestiality. Worse, he justifies his suggestion that homosexuality is “dangerous” by saying 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, if I recall.”
I suppose we can’t be surprised that someone with these beliefs keeps trying to get a “Don’t Say Gay” law passed in his home state. I continue to be surprised, however, that someone with these beliefs keeps getting elected.
In his quest to secure conservative votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has embraced extremists across the country, many of whom have well-documented histories of anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and racist rhetoric. As more moderate Republicans flock to Cruz in a push to block Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, Cruz’s support of these extremists sheds light on his future policy making, should he be elected president.
Though hardly an exhaustive list of the radicals with whom Cruz has aligned, here are some of the most reactionary characters in his playbook.
Cruz and activist Troy Newman, head of theradical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, have spent months on the campaign trail praising each other’s extreme stances on abortion.
Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2002 to continue its campaign to intimidate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, whom it had nicknamed “Tiller the Killer.” Before Newman came on as president, the group had previously targeted Tiller as part of its 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” when it led protesters to physically block and verbally intimidate those entering abortion clinics in Wichita, holding signs that, among other things, read “Tiller’s Slaughter House.”
Although Newman issued a statement on behalf of Operation Rescue condemning Scott Roeder when he murdered Tiller in 2009, a 2010 Ms. investigation reported that, according to Roeder, Newman had once told him that “it wouldn’t upset” him if an abortion provider was killed. (Newman denied meeting Roeder.) Roeder also had the phone number of Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger on a note on the dashboard of his car when he murdered Tiller. Sullenger, the senior vice president of the group, had been sentenced to prison time in 1988 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic.
Newman co-founded anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013, whose widely discredited videos alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations. Multiple ensuinginvestigations at both the state and federal level produced no evidence of wrongdoing, and one of the group’s other founders, David Daleiden, was later indicted in connection to the videos. Newman later separated from the group.
Despite the extremism of Newman’s groups, Cruz lauded the anti-choice activist upon receiving his endorsement in November, saying in a statement, “We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”
Cruz announced in late January that Newman would co-chair his coalition of anti-choice advisers, “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” listing Newman’s book co-authored with Sullenger, Their Blood Cries Out, among his accomplishments. As Right Wing Watch noted, however, the text argues women who have abortions should be treated like murderers, and that abortion doctors should be executed. The book, now out of print, read: “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt [sic] from the land and people,” according toMother Jones.
Troy Newman isn’t the only radical in “Pro-Lifers for Cruz”—the group’s chair, Tony Perkins, is an anti-LGBTQ activist with a history of aiding extremist anti-choice groups.
Since 2003, Perkins has led the Family Research Council (FRC), classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” for its anti-LGBTQ record.
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Recounting Perkins’ biography, the SPLC noted that although he claimed to have left a police force position over a disagreement about containing an anti-choice protest, “the reality is quite different.” The SPLC pointed to a report from the Nation finding that Perkins “failed to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion activists” Operation Rescue during the group’s 1992 “Summer of Purpose,” while he worked dual roles as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge and reporting for a conservative television station:
According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.
In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain-link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief. Then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by anti-abortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, he failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force.
Cruz’s list of national security advisers, meanwhile, includes Frank Gaffney Jr. Even in the face of criticism, Cruz has defended his pick, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadists, fighting jihadism across the globe.”
Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). In this year’s Intelligence Report, which documents extremist groups, the SPLC categorized CSP as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The CSP’s primary focus in recent years “has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security” by promoting conspiracy theories, according to SPLC. The Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,featured Gaffney as a key player in promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, writing that he often “makes unsubstantiated claims about ‘stealth jihad,’ the ‘imposition of Sharia law,’ and the proliferation of ‘radical mosques.'”
Cruz announced in early April that his Colorado Leadership Team included state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), asserting he was “honored” to have the support of the politician and 24 other conservatives from the the state.
The previous week, Klingenschmitt had made headlines for claiming transgender people are “confused about their own identity” during an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Klingenschmitt had been previously stripped of his position on the Colorado House of Representatives’ House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in early 2015 after claiming on his television program that a violent attack on a pregnant woman in the state was the result of “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”
“Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open,” claimed Klingenschmitt at the time before going on to pray for an “end to the holocaust which is abortion in America.”
In the wake of the deadly shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in November 2015, Klingenschmitt claimed that “Planned Parenthood executives” have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr.
Earlier in 2015, the Colorado state representativesaid that Planned Parenthood executives have “demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.” That June, he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for signing a measure forcing those seeking abortions to receive medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds, claiming that the law didn’t go far in enough because it didn’t ban abortion entirely
. James Dobson
Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the aforementioned Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.
Dobson’s own personalrhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,
Conservative radio host Steve Deace, a member of the Cruz campaign’s Iowa leadership team, is “virulently anti-LGBT, having repeatedly attacked supporters of LGBT equality as being part of a ‘Rainbow Jihad,'” according to media watchdog organization Media Matters for America.
In October Cruz announced he was “thrilled” to receive the endorsement of Sandy Rios, a conservative radio host and official at the American Family Association-yet another organization classified by the SPLC as a hate group. Rios gained notoriety during the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphiaafter claiming the conductor’s sexuality may have played a role in the accident.
Cruz and several other Republican presidential candidates spoke alongside far-right, anti-LGBTQ pastor and Christian radio host Kevin Swanson in November at the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is featured in GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project, which highlights figures who “represent extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.”
A&E’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been a fierce Cruz supporter, and in February the presidential candidate pitched the idea of making him an ambassador to the United Nations should he be elected. Just weeks earlier, Robertson had called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally. This statement came as little surprise given the reality television star’s previous comments condemning homosexuality and linking it to bestiality.
Cruz was also “thrilled” in March to win an endorsement from “Ohio’s top conservative leaders”—a list that included activist Linda Harvey, who once wrote that LGBTQ youth may be possessed by “demonic spirits.”
This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
I was 8 years old in 1998 when gay college student Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, beaten, and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming. Eleven years after that, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act making anti-LGBTQ violence a federal hate crime. It is currently the only protection LGBTQ people have in my home state of Tennessee. But I had already realized that I could be hated by or rejected from my community because of my sexuality or gender expression.
Only three of Tennessee’s counties protect people from being fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation, and a transgender person can be fired anywhere in the state for simply expressing themselves in the gender they identify with rather than the sex listed on their birth certificate.
And the state is actively working to pass more discriminatory laws. In February of this year, Tennessee legislators proposed a bill that would allow mental health workers to deny services to patients if they disagreed with the patient’s sexuality or gender expression. They are also considering HB 2414, an anti-transgender bill similar to the one recently passed in North Carolina, requiring transgender students to use the school bathrooms that adhere to the sex on their birth certificate.
But I know this is about more than a bathroom.
It’s about Republicans and other conservative leaders using their positions and their power to discriminate against LGBTQ people. It’s about living in fear that they’ll come after you. Stressing over job security, bathroom security, and life security.
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I am very familiar with this fear. I live with depression and anxiety. Both began when I was 11 and realized that there were people who might hate me or want to harm me for something I couldn’t help or stop: being a genderqueer-bodied person whose sexuality was queer. I knew that it wasn’t something that was seen as positive. I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave my community. So I lived in fear of being outed. I hid myself from friends and family for years, and I would become anxious any time I had to talk about relationships.
I even had a “just in case” plan. Between the ages of 11 and 17, I had a packed bag hidden in the closet just in case I became homeless as a result of being outed. I had $120 stashed away in shoes, toys, and bibles. I was prepared with my plan because I was aware that I could be one of the 40 percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ.
The push from powerful legislators to make this situation even worse in Tennessee is part of a consistent pattern of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric that my peers and I have experienced. When I was in high school, I watched a gay student pack up his locker and get escorted from campus. A month later, I would contemplate and come close to a suicide attempt. More recently, from 2011 through 2013, Stacey Campfield, a former state legislator and Republican, repeatedly tried to pass the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would have prohibited staff members at Tennessee public schools from talking to a student about the student’s sexual orientation. Just this year, Franklin County High School had to fight to keep its Gay-Straight Alliance because parents likened the group, a national organization that focuses on preventing bullying and offering support for LGBTQ students, to terrorism.
It is an ongoing and constant battle in Tennessee for LGBTQ students and adults to find the support they need and deserve: the right to access mental health services, to marry, to share a home, to get an education, and, yes, to use the bathroom of their choice.
In 2011, I joined the Youth Advisory Council of the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on suicide prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Staff asked me what I wanted to do in my position. My only goal was to give LGBTQ youth in Tennessee the support I didn’t have when I was younger.
Anti-LGBTQ legislation did not start with having access to a bathroom, and it will not end with fighting for bathroom access either. This is about lives, and the discrimination that I still fear will prevent me and others from the pursuit of happiness, outlined in the Constitution, we are told about during our time in school. But, in today’s United States, pursuit of happiness means little without bathroom security, job security, and life security. I won’t stop until we all have them.