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Tennessee considers LGBTQ+ education ban- ‘Don’t say gay’

“I think [LGBTQ+ education] is something that should be left to mom and dad at home,” state Rep. Bruce Griffey (R) said

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Tennessee Capitol Building (Photo Credit: State of Tennessee)

NASHVILLE – Lawmakers in Tennessee are considering a bill that would ban the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues and lifestyles in public schools. 

The Tennessee legislation is similar to a bill going through the Florida legislature, referred to by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that has received national attention, including condemnation from the White House. 

H.B. 800, introduced by state Rep. Bruce Griffey, would ban textbooks and other instructional materials in Tennessee public schools that “promote, normalize, support, or address controversial social issues, such as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) lifestyles.” 

The legislation states that LGBTQ+ issues and lifestyles are “inappropriate” and offend a “significant portion” of students, parents and Tennessee residents with “Christian values.”

“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,” the bill reads.

Chris Sanders, the executive director of the statewide LGBTQ+ rights group the Tennessee Equality Project, said the bill would have a “devastating” effect on LGBTQ+ students.  

“It erases them and stigmatizes them. It marginalizes students who have LGBTQ parents. It gives the green light to bullies because it sends the message that there is something wrong with our community, a message that many students are already hearing loud and clear without extra help from the Legislature,” Sanders told the Blade in an email.

Griffey did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, during a recent state House Finance, Ways and Means Committee hearing, Griffey briefly spoke about the bill, which was introduced last year in what was a record year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“I think [LGBTQ+ education] is something that should be left to mom and dad at home,” he said. 

Florida is considering a similar bill, deemed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity that are not “age-appropriate” in schools – though it is not clear what is considered “age-appropriate.”

LGBTQ+ advocates and Democrats around the nation have criticized the legislation. The White House recently said the bill was “cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare.”

“Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence,” a White House spokesperson said. “These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that LGBTQI+ face. The president wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone because of these legislative attacks to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve.”

The bill continues to move through the Florida statehouse, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signaling support for the legislation – saying it is “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identity. 

The Tennessee bill has stalled for the time being, but, according to Sanders, it should be back before the House “soon.”

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Tennessee

GOP State lawmakers to hospital: Stop gender-affirming surgeries

The clinic is the only healthcare provider in Tennessee offering clinical care programs for transgender & gender-expansive children

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The Matt Walsh Show (Screenshot/YouTube)

NASHVILLE – A group of Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee sent a letter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Pediatric Transgender Clinic demanding gender-affirming surgeries cease.

The letter came a few days after Republican Governor Bill Lee called for an investigation into the clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in a statement after reporting by transphobic far-right pundit Matt Walsh on his Daily Wire show.

“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” Governor Lee said in his statement. “We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain. We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

State Rep. Jason Zachary and more than 60 of his Republican colleagues sent a letter to addressed to the chair of the hospital’s board of directors calling on Vanderbilt to halt the Clinic’s trans youth healthcare regarding gender affirming treatments.

Zachary also noted the letter also requested that all conscientious and religious objections be honored.

Walsh and the far-right extremist anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok, run by Brooklyn-based Chaya Raichik have previously grabbed headlines for spreading what Trans advocates and LGBTQ+ activists call anti-LGBTQ hate speech.

Raichik who has been suspended from Facebook and also Twitter for inflammatory lies and propaganda about Trans youth healthcare, pledged to redouble her attacks on hospitals providing trans people with health care, she wrote in a rant on her Substack in which she called gender-affirming care “mutilating the body.” 

Libs of TikTok has reportedly been suspended multiple times on multiple platforms, including InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. Raichik’s last Twitter suspension came for accusing LGBTQ people of “grooming” children, which Twitter confirmed violates its policies against hateful conduct.

In line with the earlier attacks on Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Washington D.C.’s Children’s with misinformation and misleading characterizations of the trans youth health care provided by those facilities, in a lengthy thread Twitter the Daily Wire’s Walsh attacked Vanderbilt’s clinic.

Vanderbilt opened its trans clinic in 2018. During a lecture the same year, Dr. Shayne Taylor explained how she convinced Nashville to get into the gender transition game. She emphasized that it’s a “big money maker,” especially because the surgeries require a lot of “follow ups” Walsh tweeted adding:

Vanderbilt was apparently concerned that not all of its staff would be on board. Dr. Ellen Clayton warned that “conscientious objections” are “problematic.” Anyone who decides not to be involved in transition surgeries due to “religious beliefs” will face “consequences”

In case the objectors hadn’t gotten the memo, Vanderbilt unveiled a program called “Trans Buddies.” The “buddies” are trans activists from the community who attend appointments with trans patients, monitoring the doctors to guard against “unsafe” behavior such as misgendering, Walsh continued.

Vanderbilt makes their Trans Buddies available to children, too. They make lots of “services” available to children, including chemical castration. Though at some point in the last month they removed explicit admission of this fact from their site. Here’s the archived screenshot:

But they must have forgot to delete a video from Vanderbilt Psychiatry’s Youtube channel back in 2020 which admits explicitly that they will give and have given irreversible hormone drugs to children as young as 13, Walsh wrote in the thread.

After they have drugged and sterilized the kids, Vanderbilt — as explained in this video presentation by plastic surgeon Julien Winocour and Physician’s Assistant Shalyn Vanderbloemen — will happily perform double mastectomies on adolescent girls.

So, let’s review. Vanderbilt got into the gender transition game admittedly in large part because it is very financially profitable. They then threatened any staff members who objected, and enlisted a gang of trans activists to act as surveillance in order to force compliance.

They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults, while apparently taking steps to hide this activity from the public view. This is what “health care” has become in modern America, Walsh finished.

Vanderbilt responded to Walsh in a statement:

“(VUMC) is now the subject of social media posts and a video that misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients,” said the university. “VUMC began its Transgender Health Clinic because transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system.”

Walsh also shared a video that featured Vanderbilt University law and genomics professor Ellen Clayton, who discouraged physicians from religious objections to transgender surgeries.

“Saying that you’re not going to do something because of your … religious beliefs is not without consequences, and it should not be without consequences,” she said in the undated clip. “I just want to put that out there. If you don’t want to do this kind of work, don’t work at Vanderbilt.”

The University in its statement disputed that assertion by Clayton:

“Our policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable, and do not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so. This includes employees whose personal or religious beliefs do not support gender-affirming care for transgender persons,” Vanderbilt wrote.

The Tennessee Equality Project notes that the clinic is the only healthcare provider in the state offering clinical care programs for transgender and gender-expansive children and adolescents.

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Tennessee

Tennessee lawmaker tells universities to drop LGBTQ+ policies

“For Rep. Ragan to instruct one of our public universities what to do, that’s not his job. His job is to make state laws”

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East Tennessee State University, (ETSU/Facebook)

By Sam Stockard | NASHVILLE – The House chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Government Operations Committee is unilaterally ordering state universities to suspend any policies making LGBTQ students a protected class amid federal litigation.

In a letter to East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland, state Rep. John Ragan notified the university that because a federal court enjoined the U.S. Department of Education from putting the guidance by the Biden Administration in place, colleges and universities in Tennessee could be violating state law if they follow the guidelines.

The Oak Ridge Republican advised East Tennessee State’s president “to immediately revoke and/or remove any publications, policies and website entries for which your institution is responsible that state or imply that LGBTQI+ students are a protected class under Title IX.”

Noland is requested to advise Ragan’s office by Sept. 2 about completing any “required actions.”

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, center, with Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, at right. (Photo: John Partipilo)
 Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, center, with Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, at right. (Photo: John Partipilo)

ETSU spokeswoman Jess Vodden said Monday the university’s legal team is reviewing the letter and has not responded yet.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, acknowledged Monday the Biden rule was put on hold temporarily but pointed out Ragan doesn’t have the authority to “micromanage” a university.

“For Rep. Ragan to instruct one of our public universities what to do, that’s not his job. His job is to make state laws,” Sanders said. “It’s not surprise he holds that view. He makes that clear in his lawmaking. We know he’s biased against the LGBT community.”

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery also is leading a group of state attorneys general nationally to turn back the federal guidance, filing suit in East Tennessee federal court. 

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Atchley in East Tennessee reportedly issued an order in late July saying the federal guidance “directly interferes with and threatens Plaintiff States’ ability to continue enforcing their state laws” restricting transgender athletic competition and use of restrooms matching students’ gender identity. 

Sanders speculated that, in getting involved, Slatery could be trying to gain favor among lawmakers and fend off legislation designed to make the attorney general’s position a legislative appointment rather than one for the Tennessee Supreme Court. Slatery is set to step down and will be replaced Thursday by Jonathan Skrmetti.

In his letter, Ragan notes that the federal government “admonished” universities, telling them that LGBTQ students were to receive protection under Title IX of federal law or funding could be withdrawn. The guidance forced universities to rush to adopt new policies, Ragan claims.

Yet because the federal court ruled that the U.S. Department of Education can’t put its guidance into effect, Tennessee’s universities can’t be penalized for ignoring the letter, a situation that remains in place unless a higher court lifts the injunction, Ragan’s letter says.

“As a result, college and university publications, policies and websites have no legal authorization or requirement to state or imply LGBTQI+ is a protected class under Title IX. Consequently, no modifications related to the 23 June 2021 letter from the U.S. Department of Education are appropriate. In fact, based upon the court ruling, such could be interpreted as violating state law,” Ragan’s letter says.

State Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, lambasted Ragan’s letter.

For Rep. Ragan to instruct one of our public universities what to do, that’s not his job. His job is to make state laws. It’s not surprise he holds that view. He makes that clear in his lawmaking. We know he’s biased against the LGBT community.“– Chris Sanders, Tennessee Equality Project

“I think it’s ridiculous that, for some reason, Rep. Ragan has a personal vendetta against the LGBTQ community,” Dixie said. “… If the federal government says this is what they deserve and this is what the law of the land is, then we have to abide by it. Tennessee is not its own country. We’re a state within the United States.”

Dixie pointed out that even though the federal court put the rule on hold, the case isn’t settled, and issuing a letter to universities is premature.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office declined comment on the matter Monday. But in leading the 20-state federal challenge, its lawsuit claims the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “each flouting procedural requirements in their rush to overreach, issued ‘interpretations’ of federal antidiscrimination law far beyond what the statutory text, regulatory requirements, judicial precedent, and the Constitution permit.”

The state contends a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, the case cited by the Biden Administration to make its order, was a “narrow decision” in that the court determined that firing an employee “simply for being homosexual or transgender” constitutes discrimination “because of sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It claims the federal government misinterpreted the prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex” in Title IX to include sexual orientation or gender identity, even though the law “expressly permits sex separation on the basis of biological sex. …”

The filing claims the Department of Education “compounded that erroneous interpretation by issuing further guidance in a ‘Fact Sheet’ that similarly disregards Title IX’s plain text. Among other things, the guidance warns that the Department can launch an investigation if a school prevents a student from joining an athletic team or using the restroom that corresponds to the student’s gender identity, or if a student’s peers decline to use the student’s preferred pronouns.”

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Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state’s best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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The preceding article was originally published by Tennessee Lookout and is republished by with permission.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

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Tennessee

Felony arrest in vandalism of Pride Merch at Knoxville Target store

Jonathan Burns was arrested after he was identified by investigators as the suspect in spray-painting a section of LGBTQ+ Pride merchandise

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Arrest mugshot of Jonathan Burns courtesy of the Knox County, Tennessee Sheriff's Office

KNOXVILLE – A thirty-one-year-old West Knox resident was arrested last week by the Knoxville Police Department, with the help of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, and charged with felony vandalism at a local Target store.

Jonathan Burns was arrested after he was identified by investigators as the suspect in spray-painting a section of LGBTQ+ Pride clothing & merchandise.

Knoxville NBC News affiliate WBIR-TV, Channel 10 reported:

On June 13 at 2:49 p.m., Burns entered the Target on Parkside Drive and spray-painted an entire section of merchandise placed out for Pride Month, KPD said. 

Burns damaged $3,884 worth of clothing, according to KPD. They also said he used red spray paint to destroy the entire section of items as well as a sign in the section, and it was the only section that was vandalized. The sign cost an additional $16 in damages. 

An employee had approached Burns and asked him to leave, according to a KPD report.

When Burns left the Target, he dropped the spray paint can on the ground. Fingerprints on the can confirmed Burns’ identity. Evidence of him purchasing the spray paint and a bucket hat from local retail prior to the incident was secured. Video from Target and the retailer where the paint and hat were purchased depicted Burns wearing the same clothing, the report said.

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