The death of Sen. Stacey Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill in the state house last month was one of the bright spots of an otherwise bleak legislative session (if you call beating back a piece of fanatical and xenophobic nonsense a "bright spot"). In the wake of that escapade, you probably wouldn't expect Campfield to be discussing his bill with Tennessee's LGBT paper Out & About.
But you'd be wrong.
In a piece published online last week, O&A gave Campfield an opportunity to defend his bill:
''I do not think someone's sexual preference is relevant in the education of a seven- or even a twelve-year-old. ... I see no reason why a teacher's sexuality should ever be an issue unless the teacher decided to make it part of the curricula. ... In fact it could stop a similar situation to where a Memphis teacher outed a gay couple to a school and then called the students' parents and chastised them. ...''
More interesting than Campfield's comments is the willingness of O&A and writer Victor Stepien to give Campfield an opportunity, without rancor, to air his views before the paper's readership. In the piece Stepien tries to come to grips with Campfield's position:
"In all fairness, Sen. Campfield seems to be standing by the conservative principle that turning down the volume on issues seen as controversial by some, will avoid uncalled-for aggravation. ... To his credit, Sen. Campfield has managed to stand proud as a single man among a family-obsessed constituency. Like it or not, there is no question that he is a bit of a maverick standing by his convictions."
Stepien told me he wanted to do the piece because he believes "it is important to be understanding and compassionate to everyone." He adds that he thinks it's "a vicious circle for the LGBT community to malign him." (Stepien also penned an op-ed on Campfield's bill for The Tennessean last month.)
In another recent O&A article on "Don't Say Gay," Stepien talked with Harvard historian Ian Lekus, who studies LGBT issues and movements. Although some of the measure's advocates imagine that it might reduce bullying, Professor Lekus told Stepien that an LGBT-inclusive curriculum does much more to dilute the power of bullies to intimidate:
We don't have a minimum age when students learn that historical figures were heterosexual, so why should there be a fixed age when students learn that some of our forefathers and foremothers were LGBT? Without question, students need age-appropriate curricula, but our youth are a lot smarter and more clever than this bill's sponsors presume, and this measure patronizes our youth rather than protects them.
In a time when issue-oriented media are more likely to ridicule opponents than to engage them, O&A deserves kudos for letting its readers hear Campfield out in his own words, and for framing his comments in a way that is refined rather than antagonistic.