After two years of failure, it was reasonable to expect that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill wouldn’t be revived.
But when it comes to the Tennessee General Assembly, reason has nothing to do with it.
Smirking Knoxville Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield boldly refiled the controversial legislation — which seeks to restrict discussion, or even mere mention, of LGBT issues in elementary and middle schools — last week and in doing so, renewed the debate on whether he is genuine or just some sort of incredibly elaborate piece of satirical performance art.
Not content to simply bring back the failed bill as it died, he added a new wrinkle. Allegedly addressing the concerns raised by opponents of the measure that it would discourage kids who were being bullied from telling an adult about the abuse, Campfield made sure to include a provision protecting counselors and teachers in such an eventuality. But in a deft piece of concern trolling, Campfield’s addendum requires that a teacher or counselor should inform a student’s parents if their child is engaging in homosexual activity.
Thankfully, this legislation has little chance of passage. While it very well may clear the Senate, the House has become the saucer that cools Tennessee’s legislative coffee. Defying cliché, it is Tennessee’s lower chamber that’s more deliberative, that stands in the gaps against reactionary, ill-conceived, mean-spirited laws like that which Campfield is proposing.
Such pragmatism about the ultimate fate of the law is cold comfort to a gay teen afraid of being outed to his parents or to the thoughtful counselor afraid of losing her job — or worse — if she doesn’t make the state-mandated phone call.
It doesn’t ease the minds of the hundreds of thousands of gay Tennesseans who are — not to shock the senator’s sensibilities — in our children’s schools, on our police forces and pretty much everywhere else we go.
And while Campfield claims he’s flying the flag for conservatism, he’s in fact clumsily defending a caricature of mid-century Southern moralism that never existed in reality.
The touchstone of such aw-shucks values is The Andy Griffith Show — whose main character was a single-father widower helped out around the house by his never-married aunt while palling around with his man-about-town cousin, who had more girlfriends than sense — which isn’t exactly the definition of a traditional family.
It’s interesting then that the revival of Campfield’s gag order law came the same day news broke that Jim Nabors — known for his portrayal of the lovable, dimwitted Gomer Pyle on the show — married his partner of 38 years in Seattle.
It’s telling that little shock was expressed that Nabors married or even that he is gay.
Most of the surprise, surprise, surprise was that Nabors was even still alive.
Nabors didn’t get the fuss either. His response to questions about his marriage was a shoulder-shrugging no-big-deal. He and his husband just wanted to be legal, that’s all.
What horror must have befallen Campfield to learn that the mechanic-turned-Marine in his beloved Mayberry is as gay as Commander Sulu.
And that, of itself, illustrates the illogic of Don’t Say Gay and bills like it.
Campfield and his ilk claim to be preserving these Great American Family Values, but what they are defending is a reality that doesn’t exist and never did.
Sticking your fingers in your ears, muzzling teachers and making counselors snitches on the students they are supposed to help doesn’t erase the fact that you have neighbors — and Nabors — who are gay.
And it’s always been that way. Even on the sepia-toned TV shows you want life to reflect.