published Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

House sponsor stands by Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Opponents of a bill seeking to prohibit the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students wear purple to a meeting of the House Education Subcommittee in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald advanced on a voice vote. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
Opponents of a bill seeking to prohibit the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students wear purple to a meeting of the House Education Subcommittee in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald advanced on a voice vote. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
Photo by Associated Press.
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LUCAS L. JOHNSON II, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Republican sponsor of a proposal to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students said Tuesday that he's not backing off the legislation despite concerns from GOP leaders.

The proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee. But Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald told The Associated Press he plans to delay the measure for up to three weeks to work out its language.

The legislation, known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, would limit all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Supporters of the proposal say they've heard reports of some teachers discussing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, and they want to prevent that.

State education officials say such instruction is already banned from the current curriculum, but proponents of the bill feel it's necessary in case the state Board of Education decides to change the curriculum.

"We don't want students to be exposed to alternate lifestyles," Hensley said. "If their parents want them to know about that, they can teach them at home."

Hensley acknowledged the proposal's language needs more work to avoid any unintended consequences.

"We don't want to introduce sex education to K-8 students because they are not supposed to be teaching sex education in K-8 now," he said.

One amendment being considered won't prohibit "any school counselor, nurse or other authorized employee ... from appropriately responding to a student whose circumstances present issues involving human sexuality."

Hensley said that proposal is being tweaked because there's some concern about allowing the school districts to develop their own policies.

Opponents of the measure say it's too broad and fear it would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.

Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell has called for further review of the overall bill, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he would prefer for it to be dropped.

"I think there's better things to be doing," Haslam said.

Hensley, however, said he's adamant about passing the legislation this session. He said his office has received hundreds of calls in support of the bill.

"It's certainly not off the table," Hensley said. "We're moving forward with it."

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