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The man in the center of an educational firestorm, Tennessee's Rep. John Ragan, spoke to the Knoxville News.
NASHVILLE — State Rep. John Ragan says the fresh round of criticism he has faced for sponsorship of so-called “don’t say gay” bill is uninformed and unfair because he was trying to completely transform the bill so that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with homosexuality.

“It really irritates me in a major fashion,” said Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, in an interview.

An article posted on both The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post chides StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization, for declaring Ragan a Tennessee “educational reformer of the year” while he was sponsor of the “don’t say gay” bill (HB1332).

This would be the article the Knoxville News is referencing.

Rep. Ragan insists he's not anti-gay. It isn't a gay bill in his view but a "mental health bill" that merely compels teachers to refer kids to mental health professionals. The latest version says that school officials shall “notify parents or legal guardians in the manner specified by law for such a medical referral” for among other things, being suspected of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender-non-conforming.

Putting aside the ill-conceived and even dangerous idea that teachers should be functioning as spies and be required to essentially out their LGBTQ students to their parents who are then statistically quite likely to abuse or disown their kids, it's also worth noting the American Psychiatric Association hasn't classified homosexuality as mental health disorder since 1973. So, why does Rep. Ragan still believe LGBTQ kids should be encouraged to seek medical help? I have no idea where he's getting his information.

The Knoxville News also reached out to StudentsFirst's state director in Tennessee for comment. Find out his response below the fold.

Brent Easley, TN Direcotr,
StudentsFirst
Brent Easley, state director of StudentsFirst in Tennessee, provided a statement from StudentsFirst declaring the bill “an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids.”

But Easley said he and others with StudentsFirst had not seen the rewritten version of the bill. That's odd. In an entire year when StudentsFirst was raising funds for Ragan, the state director of StudentsFirst never saw an education bill their educational "Reformer of the Year" was pushing?

You'd think they'd call him up every once in a while and discuss what bills he was working on? Isn't that what a lobbying group is supposed to do? Regardless of their personal relationship with Ragan, it wasn't a big clandestine secret. The bill is tracked right there in plain sight on the Tennessee Legislature website for anyone to see. Search for "education" or "John Ragan" and the progress of the bill through the legislature is quite clearly tracked by date and action:

Filed for intro.    02/14/2013
Intro.    02/14/2013
P1C.    02/21/2013
P2C, ref. to Education Committee    02/25/2013
P2C, ref. to Education Committee    02/25/2013
Assigned to s/c Education Subcommittee    02/26/2013
Placed on s/c cal Education Subcommittee for 3/12/2013    03/06/2013
Action Def. in s/c Education Subcommittee to 3/19/2013    03/12/2013
Placed on s/c cal Education Subcommittee for 3/19/2013    03/13/2013
Action Def. in s/c Education Subcommittee to 3/26/2013    03/19/2013
Placed on s/c cal Education Subcommittee for 3/26/2013    03/20/2013
Failed for Lack of Second in: Education Subcommittee    03/26/2013
The Don't Say Gay bill was actually pretty big national news just over a year ago. If you run a Google News search for "Don't Say Gay" during the bill's most recent active period in February 2013 to March 2013, you can find hundreds and hundreds of Tennessee state and national mentions of the legislation. It received very substantial news coverage both national and local, but somehow, it didn't ping on the radar of the education experts at StudentsFirst.

Tennessee Equality Project organized students to protest the "Don't Say Gay" bill's advancement in February of 2012.

If StudentsFirst Tennessee and its state director weren't paying any attention to one of the more explosive education stories coming out of Tennessee in 2012, one wonders what exactly Brent Easley's job as a educational reformist professional is? And if StudentsFirst national was caught completely unaware by this story, what are their 75 staffers doing all day?

StudentsFirst national released a statement on Monday in response to this story. No one from StudentsFirst has ever mentioned if they have formally rescinded their honor or requested that Ragan return the money StudentsFirst PAC gave him. This prompted Salon to conclude that "Michelle Rhee’s group stands by anti-gay honoree" after reading the statement. This is an accurate summation, I'd say, and in the four days since it was posted, StudentsFirst has not clarified what their ongoing relationship with Rep. John Ragan will be.

StudentsFirst's statement is carefully crafted to condemn the bill but not its author, as though the bill somehow wrote itself. (Well, to be fair, maybe the bill was written by ALEC.) The bill is referenced only by bill number by StudentsFirst, not as its far more commonly known as: the "Don't Say Gay" bill. In fact, StudentsFirst's entire statement would conform to "Don't Say Gay" directive, by its careful and quite conspicuous omission of any use of the words "gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, LGBT" or any variation of them. If you didn't already know,StudentsFirst was specifically discussing LGBTQ inclusion at schools, you could read the statement and still not know that.

The statement was not an apology nor did it show any real evidence of contrition. Nor has StudentsFirst indicated whether they will endorse and fundraise for Ragan again in the future. And there was also no promise that if StudentsFirst does continue to work with Ragan in the future, they will watch him more closely and work to educate him to conform with their own stated policies and principles that schools should be safe, welcoming spaces for all students to learn.

Right, Michelle Rhee, CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, inset, educational
"reformer of the year" Rep. John Ragan. Via Facebook.

Originally posted to Scott Wooledge on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:22 AM PDT.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks and Daily Kos.

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