Same song, second verse

I read this article last night, and my what-the-hell meter went off.  You can read the whole bill here.

Now, I’m not so sure I disagree with Tennessee’s ban on K-8 sex ed.  I kind of wish my school had banned sex ed, given what the district tried to pass off as covering the topic.  You know how everyone is all worried that their kid is going to learn the wrong things on the school bus?  I’m pretty sure that my bus education was superior to what I got in the classroom.  Given the conservative environment in Tennessee, it’s probably better that the schools leave it up to someone else.

On the other hand, this gag order on mentioning anything that falls remotely outside “natural human reproduction” is kind of weird in that context.  So they’re not supposed to teach about sex…but they are supposed to teach “natural human reproduction.”  I was under the impression that most of the time, the latter requires the former in order to occur.  I guess my education was worse than I thought.  I’m thinking that’s just a poorly worded way of saying that they advise kids to have proper man-woman marriages that involve a lot of non-kinky child-producing sex when they grow up.

I admit that I was confused by the wording of the bill, especially since the Salon article didn’t include the full text.  From appearances, it looks like staff are to report things that put students at risk without specifying what things constitute risk.  It’s poorly phrased, and it leaves too much room for interpretation, but it didn’t seem to me as though it was specifically targeting LGBT students.  From what I could tell, it could be a problem for any student engaging in any behavior that a staff member deems “risky.”   It could also mean that staff are required to report actual dangers to students, such as abuse and rape.  If it were more clearly the latter, I might think that there was at least some good in here–an acknowledgement that assault and abuse are dangerous and damaging to students.

It’s the wording of the thing, though, that troubles me.  Staff members are to report students who are “engaging in” or “at risk of engaging in” behaviors that someone (who even knows who) deems potentially injurious.  The unclear language suggests that it is not about non-consensual acts like assault and abuse, but about acts in which the student is a willing participant.  Issues of immediate danger are covered separately (more on that later), so this is clearly about intentional behavior.

What concerns me is that this provides an opportunity for the government to dictate and/or support others in dictating what constitutes “injurious” sexual behavior.  Even worse, the student doesn’t have to actually do anything, he or she only has to have the potential to do something.  While I agree that the students at greatest risk here are those who have sexuality or gender identity that is not aligned with what conservative evangelical Christians approve, they aren’t the only ones being targeted.  A student caught carrying a condom could be penalized with a call home too, regardless of whether he or she was planning on using it.  And before anyone says that this has to do with school staff “counseling” students and then calling home, don’t be fooled.  There is nothing in there that suggests that the student must be the one to seek the “counseling”–only that parents be informed if it has taken place.  That ought to put your Creepiness Radar on high alert.

The other troublesome aspect is the paragraph below the one on “risky” behavior.  I have to say, I do like the provision for not notifying parents who are suspected of being the perpetrators of abuse.  I think that may be the only bright spot here, and it really doesn’t belong in a bill related to human sexuality.  The failure here is lumping abuse and assault in with sexuality, when those things really have nothing to do with sex or sex education.  The fact that there needs to be a whole paragraph in which adults are told that the gag order on sex talk doesn’t extend to abuse bothers me quite a bit.  If there weren’t an underlying belief that rape, assault, harassment, and molestation are issues of sexuality rather than, you know, abuse, there wouldn’t be a need to spell it out in a bill pertaining to sex ed.

The whole thing is utter nonsense and just extends the stupidity of the original “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  Ignoring, legislating, and “reporting” behavior outside the approved category of “natural human reproduction” won’t make it go away.  Neither will making laws regarding what can or cannot be said in schools, but it just might make students feel less safe and less willing to trust adults–even those who wouldn’t report them to their parents.


2 thoughts on “Same song, second verse

  1. “I have to say, I do like the provision for not notifying parents who are suspected of being the perpetrators of abuse. I think that may be the only bright spot here, and it really doesn’t belong in a bill related to human sexuality.”

    It may not be a bright spot at all because the bill does not define what constitutes “abuse of the student.” It may not be limited to physical abuse, but could include psychological, emotional, well being, etc. type of abuse. Thus, the school is under no obligation to notify the parents in situations that fall into such categories. This could easily occur if the parents tell their child certain sexual beliefs and/or behaviors are acceptable, but the school deems them to be unacceptable. The school can claim that the child is being abused.

    • That’s a good point; I hadn’t considered the thorny issue of parents’ beliefs as “abuse” if they differ from those of school officials. I wonder if some staff might consider it “abuse” if parents encourage interaction between their children and LGBT family members. Given the number of people who still think gay = pedophile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that happen. This obviously has repercussions beyond the school setting.

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