Tennessee Republicans launch chilling bid to ban LGBT+ books from schools in yet another attack on queer kids

Maggie Baska
·2-min read

Tennessee lawmakers have advanced a bill seeking to ban LGBT-inclusive textbooks and teaching materials from schools.

HB 800, which was introduced by Republican congressman Bruce Griffey, would prohibit the state from allowing textbooks and instructional materials that contain LGBT+ subjects. The bill argues that instructional materials that “promote, normalise, support or address controversial social issues” – like LGBT+ issues or gender identity – are “inappropriate”.

The proposed legislation claims that the “promotion of LGBT issues and lifestyles” should be subject to the same restrictions and limitations “placed on the teaching of religion in public schools”. It would require schools to alert parents of any instruction on LGBT+ subjects, allowing students to opt-out of such lessons.

HB 800 says public schools should focus on subjects like mathematics, science and reading – not LGBT+ issues or gender identity.

The bill will be considered by the Tennessee education instruction subcommittee on 30 March. If it is passed, it will go into effect on 1 July and apply to the 2021-2022 school year.

Griffey argued in the bill that the “promotion of LGBT issues and lifestyles” in public schools “offends a significant portion of students, parents and Tennessee residents with Christian values”.

He told The Star that he believed parents should be the primary educators on topics like LGBT+ issues – not publicly funded schools. Griffey said teachers have been teaching about LGBT+ lifestyles because the wording of the existing law doesn’t fully address materials outside the main state-mandated curriculum.

“Under Tennessee law, the educational instructional materials have to comply with the state standards, and the way [schools] have been getting around that is one, supplemental materials, and two, there’s a provision in state law that you can teach family life stuff as a part of the curriculum,” Griffey said.

The new bill comes as a wave of anti-trans bills are being placed before Tennessee lawmakers.

Jason Zachary, a Republican congressman from Knoxville, and Mike Ball, a Republican senator from Riceville, introduced sister bills that would allow cisgender students to sue a school if they are ‘forced’ to share school facilities with trans students. This would cover facilities like bathrooms, locker rooms and dorms.

Under the bill, cisgender students could sue publicly-funded schools that do not provide them with “reasonable accommodations” separate from their trans classmates.

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are also trying to get the Bible designated as the official state book. Jerry Sexton, a congressman from Bean Station, introduced a house joint resolution – his third attempt – to get the Bible added to the list of symbols and honours in the Tennessee Blue Book.

He argued that the US was founded on Christian values, and he believed the Bible was being “discriminated against” because of its religious nature.