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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

Tennessee bans collegiate Trans athletes

The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate

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Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee/State of Tennessee YouTube

NASHVILLE – Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill last Friday that effectively bans transgender women from competing on college sports teams consistent with their gender identity in Tennessee.

The new law, Senate Bill 2153, “prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females.” The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

Every university and college in the state will also be required to adopt and enforce a policy ensuring compliance with the new law. The measure would also prevent any government entity, organization or athletic association from taking “an adverse action” against a school that complies with the law or a student who reports a violation.

“This law sends a horrible message that trans and nonbinary youth can be excluded from the many benefits of participating in sports,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said Friday in a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign. 

“More broadly, it also stains those who are complicit and creates habits of lawmaking that endanger everyone in Tennessee,” he said. “Legislation crafted from animus and ignorance protects no one.”

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Tennessee

Terminated CEO who bullied LGBTQ+ teen sues comedian Kathy Griffin

“Yep. This is what it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally. I will fight this suit and I will not settle. I don’t think he got fired because of me”

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Screenshot/WKRN News 2

NASHVILLE – The former Chief Executive Officer of a Franklin, Tennessee-based healthcare company, who was terminated a year ago after his homophobic tirade against a former LGBTQ high school student, announced that he was suing comedian Kathy Griffin claiming Griffin’s Tweets led to his dismissal.

Samuel Johnson, was fired by VisuWell in April 2021 hours after a Tik-Tok and Instagram reel went viral, which was also tweeted by Griffin.

Nahville ABC News affiliate WKRN 2 had first reported the story after a cell phone video posted to multiple social media platforms went viral. In the video taken at the Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin, Dalton Stevens, a senior at Franklin High School, was with his boyfriend and date Jacob Geittman when Johnson walked up to Stevens and ridiculed him for his formal prom attire, a red full length dress.

“Slander terms thrown towards me of like ‘You look bad,’ ‘You’ve got hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress,’ ‘You’re not a man,’ blah, blah, blah,” Stevens told WKRN. “The fact that he thought he had the audacity to come tell me what I was supposed to wear and what I was supposed to do because of his standards.”

Stevens told the station that, “I very much view clothes as genderless,” His boyfriend chimed in with “You can have your thoughts and opinions, [but] keep them to yourself,” Geittman said. “You don’t need to go up to a teenager in public on their prom night and publicly shame and harass them for what they decided to wear.”

In a series of tweets on the company’s Twitter account, VisuWell issued a formal statement then added that “in response to those asking for additional clarity on Sam Johnson’s termination as CEO, we can confirm that Mr. Johnson is no longer employed by VisuWell in any capacity.

He no longer has a position on the Board of Directors or any informal advisory role. His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all.”

After filing his suit in U.S. District Court Johnson tweeted:

Griffin responded: “Yep. This is what it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally. I will fight this suit and I will not settle. I don’t think he got fired because of me. I hope these kids are ok.”

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Tennessee

New law restricts funding to schools allowing Trans students to play sports

“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely”

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Tennessee State Flag (Blade file photo)

NASHVILLE – Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill last Friday that allows for the withholding of state funds from any Tennessee school districts that don’t comply with the trans-exclusionary law Lee signed in March of 2021, Senate Bill 228.

The law, S.B. 228, bans trans children from participating on middle and high school sports teams that match their gender by requiring student athletes to prove the sex they were assigned at birth with an “original” birth certificate or other forms of proof. 

Written into the language of the law, Tennessee’s Department of Education would withhold a portion of state funds from local school districts that fail to determine a student’s gender for participation in middle or high school sports. The measure does not specify exactly how much money should be withheld by the state.

“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely – depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU of Tennessee’s transgender justice advocate, in a statement.

Last Fall, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit on behalf of Luc Esquivel, a 14-year-old boy from Knoxville, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, arguing that the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional. 

Tennessee lawmakers are also advancing a separate bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports. Republicans have also pushed another measure to let teachers and school districts use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer, exempting teachers from facing employment punishment and protecting schools from civil liability. Both proposals are expected to clear the General Assembly, the Associated Press reported.

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