Chilling bill seeking to ban books ‘normalising or supporting’ LGBT+ people inches closer to reality

Republican congressman Bruce Griffey HB 800

A bill that would ban books that promote “LGBT issues and lifestyles” in public schools in Tennessee is inching closer to becoming law.

HB 800 would prohibit public schools in Tennessee from using books or teaching materials that “promote, normalise, support or address controversial issues” – like LGBT+ issues or lifestyles or gender identity – are “inappropriate”.

The bill said the promotion of “LGBT issues and lifestyles” should face the same restrictions “placed on the teaching of religion in public schools”. It added that educational materials that promote LGBT+ issues and lifestyles in public schools offends a “significant portion of students’ parents and Tennessee residents with Christian values”.

Republican congressman Bruce Griffey, who introduced the bill, spoke in favour of the bill before other lawmakers at the state capitol. He said he doesn’t want the “state of Tennessee teaching my daughters about sex and lifestyle changes”. Griffey added: “The state of Tennessee is not allowed to teach my Christian values that I think are important and they should learn so I teach those at home.

“If those are not a part of the school curriculum, I don’t see how LGBTQ and other issues of social lifestyles should be part of the curriculum.

“So what this bill simply seeks to do is to limit that so neither side has an unfair advantage over the other regarding what’s being taught in schools to our children.”

The bill passed the Tennessee House education instruction subcommittee by a 6-3 vote, and it will now inch closer to becoming reality. If the bill does eventually get passed into law, it would go into effect in July and would be implemented in schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

In an opinion piece for The Tennessean, Patrick R Grzanka, an associate professor of psychology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said HB 800 would “erase LGBT people and issues from public school curricula completely, scrubbing them from human civilization”.

He wrote: “Alan Turing and the history of modern computing? Gone. LGBT activists and the development of antiretroviral drugs to combat the AIDS pandemic? Nope.

“Bayard Rustin’s role in the civil rights movement? Not allowed. Who knows what this even means for literature, music, and art, but I think it’s safe to say that Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin are out.”

The proposed ban on books that promote “LGBT issues and lifestyles” in schools comes as the Tennessee legislature considers a separate bill which would allow guardians and parents to “opt out” their children from being taught anything relating to LGBT+ people.

The bill, HB 529/SB 1229, passed through the House education instruction committee on Wednesday (31 March). This bill would require teachers to notify parents 30 days before they teach about “sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum”.

Teachers would also be required to prepare alternate lessons for students who are not given permission to engage with the curriculum.

Republican state representative Debra Moody said the bill would give parents the power to decide if education about LGBT+ issues is right for their family. According to WPLN, she said parents “want to know that they know what’s being offered”.