It’s been a week since I tackled a political topic, so it seems like a a good time to wade into the events on the far end of Gay Street. Last week I talked about G-L-O-R-I-A and since then her retirement has been accepted pending negotiations and she has been placed on administrative leave with pay. As I said last Friday, the end seems to be a matter of details.
The year’s other major downtown story, as you all know, involves the state senator from the seventh district who was invited in strong terms to find another eating establishment after he entered the Bistro with friends at the lunch hour. Owner Martha Boggs declared that Stacey had moved from a nuisance to a danger and that his pending legislation will open the door for bullying of gay teens. She was also reacting to inaccurate statements he’d made regarding transmission of AIDS.
In the aftermath of all the uproar and after appearances on local media as well as CNN, Ms. Boggs indicated she might have handled the situation differently given some time to reflect. Stacey, for his part, responded to the incident via his blog comparing himself to Jesus Christ and civil rights demonstrators. George Korda of the News Sentinel completely missed the point Ms. Boggs made about bullying, thinking that she had his confused with another fine bill, which appears to have died, which would make it OK to make hurtful statements if ones religious beliefs led to the statement.
It was, of course, George Korda who was confused. Here’s the text of the current “Don’t Say Gay” bill proposed by Stacey Campfield:
Tennessee Senate Bill 49: “(1) The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home. Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.
(2) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science. The provisions of this subdivision shall also apply to a group or organization that provides instruction in natural human reproduction science in public elementary or middle schools.”
So is Stacey a nuisance or a danger? If you reflect on previous incidents such as grandstanding when he tried to join the black caucus or when he wore the mask to a UT game on Halloween even though it had been made abundantly clear that was unacceptable and then refused to take it off when confronted by police which then prompted his ejection, you might think he’s a nuisance.
Other incidents suggest he may be more harmful and perhaps even dangerous. His history as a slumlord seems to suggest he is a danger to his tenants. His comments on AIDS are also dangerous to the sexually naive, such as the young people about whom he claims to be so concerned. If his legislation would result in unbridled cruelty to students, he is dangerous. But would it?
Whenever articles on any portion of this controversy appear on the Knoxville News Sentinel web site, the comments indicate that many people support his legislation. I do not. It is based on very bad assumptions and reflects a complete lack of understanding about the middle school environment it professes to remedy legislatively.
First, there is no problem to be addressed. The bill and Stacey Campfield seem to assume that teachers are running amok with a “homosexual agenda.” This is not true. I’ve worked in and around public schools for nearly thirty years and I’ve never known a teacher who relished the opportunity to discuss any sexually related topic with a student, let alone a homosexual topic, given the fact that any such discussion could lead to angry recriminations from parents and community complaints or worse. His fantasy that teachers are trying to indoctrinate students to “become” homosexual is simply sad.
So, if teachers don’t want to talk about it and the bill says they can’t, what is the problem? Many teachers will broach the subject because they know it is important. Under this law they would be unable to do so.
I’ll give you an example from the last few weeks: I heard a group of eighth grade students ridiculing a male classmate who was not present. They used the word “gay” repeatedly and talked about his effeminate characteristics and laughed uproariously. It would have been easy for me to ignore them. Instead, I did what any responsible adult would do. I sat down with them and we talked about how hurtful that kind of labeling could be. We talked about the reality that some people are gay and that includes some of their classmates, but that those people deserve respect as much as anyone else.
If this bill was law it would be illegal for me to have done anything but ignore them. Would that make their attitudes healthier? Would that leave their classmate vulnerable to their ridicule? Would it make another suicide by a tortured gay young person, like the one in Memphis just before Christmas more likely?
The law also mentions “materials.” Where does this leave the library in public schools? Can we have biographies of openly gay artists, writers and others if mention is made of the fact? Are we to purge any books on human development – a topic of intense obsession for twelve and thirteen-year-olds – if they mention that some people are gay? Is it acceptable for a fiction book to have gay characters? Is it acceptable for a book to have a gay protagonist?
Given the fact that the number one “slur” in middle school is to call someone “gay,” I feel this is too important a topic to defer to a legislator who has no understanding of what is happening in schools and apparently has little understanding of the history or the transmission of AIDS. This is beyond a nuisance, it is a danger. One has to wonder why this topic continues to be preeminent in the Senator’s mind.
So, should Ms. Boggs have evicted him? Is this a matter of property rights or freedom of speech? I believe the man has to be confronted. He has a right to say ignorant, hateful and even harmful things, but he has no right to be able to do so without repercussions. Sadly, until the residents of his district determine to confront him at the ballot box, we will likely only get more of the same.