NASHVILLE — A bill allowing Tennessee parents to block their children from taking part in school lessons involving LGBTQ topics cleared the state Senate on Monday after heated debate over the measure, which requires schools to provide parents at least 30 days notice before the subject comes up in class.
Senate Bill 1229, sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose, R-Covington, passed 24-6 on a straight party-line vote with Republicans voting yes and Democrats no. The House version has cleared major committees but has not yet come to the chamber floor.
It would require public schools and public charter schools to notify parents in not less than 30 days of a lesson involving "sexual orientation curriculum" or "gender identity curriculum."
Rose, who last year passed a law allowing faith-based agencies to reject LGBTQ couples wishing to adopt or provide foster care to children, said his latest effort is necessary to give parents a voice in what their children are taught.
"This really seems like a 'cancel culture' bill," Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, said, adding "You can't cancel LGBTQ people." She added that "there's something wrong" with a bill "to stigmatize someone's very existence."
Rose said parents can already choose to opt out of family life curriculum but LGBTQ matters aren't included in the provision.
"It gives parents a much-needed voice," Rose said.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, asked what would happen in a history or other class discussing protests including the women's movement, temperance and women's voting rights.
"Could you include LGBTQ in there?" asked Yarbro, also citing the Stonewall riots, a 1969 New York City riot in which the LGBTQ community protested a police raid targeting them and the assassination of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official.
Rose appeared unfamilar with the references.
Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, is carrying the lower chamber's version, House Bill 529.
The bill is one of two drawing condemnation from the Southern Christian Coalition.
"This legislation is harmful and discriminatory to all LGBTQ people across the state, and specifically to students who deserve to feel valued and respected by their teachers and peers in the classroom," said Brandon Berg, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bristol. "I believe that every person bears the image of God. This legislation would stigmatize and do harm to students by treating gender and sexual identity conversations as purely academic exercise that parents can or should morally oppose."
The second bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. It seeks to restrict transgender students' use of public school and public charter school restrooms to facilities matching their assigned sex at birth or single-stall accommodations.
Another provision in Senate Bill 1367 allows students to sue over sharing restrooms and locker rooms with their transgender peers. Bell delayed a Senate floor vote on Monday, saying earlier he was carrying the bill at Zachary's request and was letting him pass the bill first. Zachary's version, House Bill 1233, comes up Wednesday in the House Finance Subcommittee.
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