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Tennessee lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal that might stop schools from displaying the LGBTQ Pride flag

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Lawmakers in Tennessee are considering a new law that could affect the flags allowed in public schools. This has caused concern among LGBTQ advocates who believe it might lead to the banning of the Pride flag and limit free speech.

The Tennessee state House recently moved forward with HB 1605, a proposed change to the rules about displaying flags in schools. The bill specifies certain flags that can be shown, like the U.S. flag and the Tennessee state flag, as well as any flag protected by the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.

Critics worry that including the Heritage Protection Act might allow the Confederate flag to be displayed while prohibiting the Pride flag. This act, in effect since 2013, prevents the removal or alteration of memorials on public property related to historic conflicts or events, including those from the Civil War.

Tennessee state Rep. Gino Bulso, a Republican, introduced HB1605 after complaints from parents about the Pride flag in schools. He argues that the bill aims to let parents decide the values their children are exposed to in school.

During a hearing, Bulso claimed the bill only allows the display of certain flags, accusing teachers of using flags like the Pride flag to promote specific values. Some people at the hearing disagreed with this assertion.

Democratic State Rep. Justin Pearson criticized the bill, calling it “immoral and unjust.” He proposed an amendment to ban Confederate flags but was unsuccessful.

If HB1605 becomes law, it would also grant parents the right to take legal action against public or charter schools to enforce the flag-related rules.

Advocates supporting LGBTQ rights and civil liberties have criticized a proposed change, saying it undermines the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment and is harmful to students.

Chris Sanders, who leads the Tennessee Equality Project and Tennessee Equality Project Foundation, explained to CNN that the Pride flag serves as a signal to LGBTQ students that they are in a safe and accepting environment.

According to Sanders, LGBTQ youth often face more bullying and discrimination than their peers, and having supportive adults in their lives is crucial. It’s better for them not to be left guessing about their identity.

Sanders also pointed out that if a small group of parents wants control over what everyone sees, they should try to change the First Amendment. Otherwise, he sees no reason why they should dictate the speech and expression of others.

Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee are opposing the bill as well. State Rep. Sam McKenzie called it a terrible bill during a recent debate on the House floor, stating that it effectively bans symbols like the LGBTQ flag.

This move to prohibit Pride flags in Tennessee is part of a broader trend in the US, where a parental rights movement is gaining traction. This movement aims to give parents more influence over what is taught in classrooms, particularly regarding topics like race, sexuality, and gender.

The proposed HB1605 is just one of many anti-LGBTQ bills making their way through state legislatures nationwide. In 2023, over 500 such bills were introduced, with Tennessee and North Dakota leading in the number of bills passed.

Notably, in June, Tennessee sought to reverse a federal judge’s decision deeming a state law restricting public drag show performances as unconstitutional.

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