Friday, February 10, 2012

Stacey Campfield: Public Nuisance or Public Danger?

Stacey Campfield

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.

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At February 10, 2012 at 8:39 AM , Anonymous Greg said...

Maybe it's just my screen, but I can't read the block quotes you posted. They're in very very pale gray type on a white background.

At February 10, 2012 at 8:40 AM , Blogger Clint said...

Look, the guy is a nut case and everybody knows it. But is refusing service to a nut case the act of a deep thinker? Methinks not.

I mean, if we refused service to every nut case, then politicians wouldn't be able to eat anywhere. And I had this really funny thought last night at 2:00 as I was in the bed trying to get back to sleep---what if this guy were an African-American? How would refusing service to him have flushed? Hmmm?

At February 10, 2012 at 9:55 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

It wasn't just you. I have no idea how that got to be such a mess, but I've battled the html and I think I've got it close to how I thought it would look. Thanks for the heads-up.

At February 10, 2012 at 10:19 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Hey Clint,

You make good points and it is interesting how this event stood our usual arguments on their head. Conservatives who usually tout property rights were talking about freedom of speech and liberals had done the reverse.

I think Martha, given time to think agreed with you. In the moment she was just angry. Of course, if he had been African-American the story would have played differently because we have a host of other issues and history there.

The bottom line is if we continue electing crazy people we'll get what we ask for: crazy people. And this one is really up to the Republicans locally. They must nominate someone different next time or cross over and vote for a Democrat because the district is drawn so a there are many fewer democratic voters.

At February 10, 2012 at 11:43 AM , Blogger Andrea said...

I highly recommend this article in Rolling Stone to you. It is devastating, but so important to read. I fear something similar will happen in our state if Campfield's law passes.

I agree, he is a nuisance and a danger. I only hope he is thrown out of office as fast as possible.

At February 10, 2012 at 8:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good links Andrea and UrbanGuy.


At February 10, 2012 at 11:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard the Ballad of Campfield and Boggs:

Yes, I think he has become a danger. He needs to go.

At February 11, 2012 at 9:44 AM , Anonymous Greg said...

Growing up with a name like Stacey, I have to wonder if Campfield was mercilessly teased as a kid. Maybe it unhinged him and his obsession is a case of overcompensation.

At February 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Thank you for that link, Andrea. I read the entire (long) article and I plan to share it with others. Maybe it will give pause to some of the people who think Stacey's proposed legislation is a good idea.

At February 11, 2012 at 11:36 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

That's a good thought, Greg. Some sort of reaction-formation is likely and is being discussed with increasing openness in the city.

At February 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM , Blogger Andrea said...

That makes a lot of sense.

At February 12, 2012 at 8:27 PM , Anonymous Art Wagner said...

I include here the link to the re-drawn state Senate districts.
Comparing the new to the old 7th district, the gerrymandering is completely obvious. While downtown is still in the 7th district, all of north and east Knoxville are in other districts. Unfortunately, the Knox County areas most supportive of Campfield and his bigotry, Farragut, Karns, and Powell, are solidly included in the 7th.

As UrbanGuy said, it will be up to rational Republicans to field a strong opposing candidate to Campfield. Without crossover, there just aren't enough Democratic voters left to carry the day.

At February 13, 2012 at 9:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boring liberals


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