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Tennessee Legislators Condemn University ‘Sex Week’

Martha Kempner

Sex Week is coming to the University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus, but some state legislators really wish it wasn't. A resolution was approved in the Tennessee house this week calling the event an “outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies.”

This week, a Tennessee house panel approved a resolution condemning the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s “Sex Week” activities. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga), calls the event an “outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies.”

The second annual Sex Week, pulled together by the campus group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), is scheduled for early March, but some state lawmakers really wish it wasn’t. Last year’s event caused controversy for featuring, in addition to activities and lectures focused on sex education and safe sex, a drag show, an expert on lesbian bondage, an oral sex workshop titled “How Many Licks,” and a campus-wide hunt for the golden condom.

Legislators heard of last year’s event before it happened and were outraged enough that university officials pulled all state tax money ($11,145) slated for the event. Organizers still received $6,500 via student fees and were able to make up the rest of the budget through private donations. The event went on as planned, with more than 4,000 students attending.

In the year since, lawmakers have spent what seems like an inordinate amount of time and effort to prevent the event from happening again. State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) filed a bill that would require student fees to be proportionally distributed to student organizations based on the number of members and prohibit the use of institutional revenue to pay for any outside speaker. Reps. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City) and Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) co-sponsored the house’s version of the same bill. Rep. Lynn claimed the bill was not entirely about Sex Week, telling the Huffington Post, “Sex Week merely brought to light the inequity with the current system for distributing the wealth of the student activity fees. Our legislation will ensure a socially just dispersion, as well as educational and political equality for the use of the funds for all of the groups on campus.”

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Campfield, on the other hand, said, “As long as they are a public entity, we do have a say in what goes on campus.”

Some readers may remember that Campfield is the same legislator who sponsored the now infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would have prohibited teachers from discussing homosexuality in school. His version of the bill also seemed to order school administrators to “out” students suspected of same-sex activity by telling their parents. In interviews after his bill gained national attention, Campfield made some outrageous remarks. For example, he explained to USA Today, “Being gay is not a dangerous activity. The act of homosexuality is very dangerous to someone’s health and safety.”

As for Sex Week, Campfield continues to express “concern” for youth, pointing out that there is no age requirement to go to college.

Rep. Floyd, the sponsor of the recently passed resolution, may have been the most straightforward about his motivations. He said he wanted to officially condemn Sex Week because people in his district “are fed up with perversion.” He added in an interview after his resolution passed, “If those people who organize this thing want to have it, hey, let them get off campus.”

“They can go out there in a field full of sheep if they want to and have all the sex week they want,” he said.

None of the lawmakers appears to be concerned that the bill’s language banning outside speakers would be applied to other speakers as well—like presidents, foreign dignitaries, or authors. But students are worried about this. Grant Davis, director of student services on the campus, told the Huffington Post, “The prevailing thought on campus is if the state can take away SEAT’s rights because they don’t like their programing then what other organizations or events on campus will the legislature decide to do away with next?”

Speaking to a local television station, Brianna Rader, a Sex Week organizer, said, “It’s disappointing that they would condemn students for providing sexual health programming on the campus. We don’t drag UT’s name through the mud. We had 4,000 people attend our event last year. We received no complaints from the event we did last year and students really like our program.”

A petition against these pieces of legislation now has more than 1,400 student signatures.

The students seem to have the support of school administrators. Chancellor Jimmy Cheeks pointed out, “That’s the role of great universities—to allow the free exchange of ideas. If we don’t have different ideas, if we don’t have controversial ideas expressed, then we’re not really accomplishing the real mission of the university.”

As of now, it looks like Sex Week will go on as planned, with sessions such as “Don’t Blame It on Alcohol: Communication, Consent, and Sexual Assault Prevention,” “Stay the Night: Hook Up Culture,” and the “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” relationship workshop.

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