Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Republican from Knoxville, doesn’t want children to know gay people exist, and he’s willing to go to the legislative mat to defend his denial of reality. His bill, which is showing every sign of imminent passage, would prohibit mentioning the existence of anything other than heterosexuals to students below the ninth grade.
Supporters of the bill claim that it’s “neutral” because it allows families to decide for themselves when their children will be made aware of homosexuality and other “alternate” sexualities. In reality, it’s one of the worst kinds of discrimination. By essentially “legislating gays out of existence,” it has made the question of equal treatment less than irrelevant. How can a group that doesn’t exist possibly be treated poorly?
This is an important legislative battle to fight, but it’s more than that. This story is a microcosm of the American Christian worldview, and an indictment against denialism. The fact — THE FACT — is that homosexual people exist. The fact is that humans are not uniquely gay. If anything, we’re less sexually diverse than many animals. Homosexuality, bisexuality, transexuality, and virtually every other human “alternative sexuality” exist in abundance in the animal kingdom, and there’s not a single example of anything detrimental happening to any species because they are not exclusively heterosexual.
These are the scientific facts, and they are an integral part of any accurate biology education.
As I said, this is representative of a predominant worldview in Christian America. The mantra is simple: If we legislate the reality we would like to be true, it will become true. If we refuse to teach evolution, the evidence will go away. If we never discuss homosexuality, nobody will be gay. If we ignore America’s spectacular descent to third world levels of education, health care, and income gaps, free market capitalism will work.
In some ways, 21st century America is a first in history. Never before has science so completely refuted religious dogma, and never before has the body of evidence been so immediately accessible to the average citizen. The political religious revival which began during the Cold War and has been steadily growing in strength since the late 70s represents at one time the most vitriolic First World religious movement and the most emphatically denialist.
One can almost forgive a great deal of the religious fervor in the past. There have always been substantial gaps in the body of scientific knowledge. Before the discovery of evolution and later, DNA, it was not entirely unreasonable to suggest an act of intelligent creation. Before homosexuality was documented in thousands of animals, before we mapped the Big Bang, before we invented fMRI, before we found the building blocks of DNA all over the cosmos…
The list is beyond extensive. The advances we’ve made in the past fifty years have forced religious zealotry out of the realm of impassioned faith and squarely into borderline psychotic denialism. No longer can we excuse draconian religious declarations as good-hearted disagreement. Religion in today’s politics is nothing less than a blatant attempt to strong-arm the will of a bigoted and xenophobic minority into law. It is an elitist and horrifyingly naive Utopian miasma.
Tennessee’s schoolyard version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents a wake-up call to Americans. More importantly, it represents just the latest in what should have been a long series of wake-up calls. The Religious Right has made it abundantly clear that they are not concerned with reality. They are concerned with their own elitist agenda, and they do not care what evidence or whose civil rights they trample in the process.
There is simply no excuse for allowing this to continue. By all accounts, religious fundamentalists account for less than 40% of the population. It is intolerable that these people have captured enough of the American legislative body to pass anti-science, anti-gay, anti-education laws in multiple states, and to gain real momentum in support of a discriminatory Constitutional amendment.
The worst part of it all is that we are to blame. We who have not attended city council meetings armed with scientific evidence. We who have shrugged politely and deferred to people’s “private religious views.” We who have refused to stand up for our beliefs because we are “agnostic” and don’t want to act like the religious people by… you know… voting with our feet. We who sit smugly in our comfortable atheist meetups griping privately amongst ourselves while religious activists raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the express purpose of taking over the government.
This is the bed we’ve made for ourselves, and it will not get more comfortable until we recognize the severity of religious denialism and admit that it has no place — no place at all — in a civilized political debate in an alleged First World democracy. We have the privilege (for now) of standing up en masse and spearheading a movement to bring rational discourse to politics, but it will not happen until we make our collective voices clear: We will not accept heavy handed 19th century scientific illiteracy as a substitute for genuine bipartisan political discourse.
- Tennessee’s “don’t say gay” bill advances (salon.com)
- “Don’t Say Gay” – Tennessee Law Prohibiting Talk of Homosexuality in Schools (turnthrice.wordpress.com)