POLITICS

New Law Restricts University Of Tennessee's Ability To Support Sex Week

It also makes it harder for UT to teach students about gender-neutral pronouns.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) this week allowed a bill to become law that bars the University of Tennessee from using state
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) this week allowed a bill to become law that bars the University of Tennessee from using state funds to support Sex Week.

The University of Tennessee's flagship campus in Knoxville is now prohibited by state law from supporting a student-organized event called "Sex Week," after Gov. Bill Haslam (R) allowed a bill to become law on Friday.

The law, pushed by state Republicans, bars UT Knoxville from putting any state funds toward Sex Week, and defunds the school's office of diversity and inclusion. Instead, the $436,000 that would've gone to the diversity office will be rerouted to support engineering scholarships.

The law also explicitly prohibits the university from using state funds to "promote the use of gender neutral pronouns."

Haslam allowed the bill to become law by failing to either veto or sign the legislation, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The legislation passed the Tennessee Senate and House in April.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit, has argued in the past that legislation banning the university from putting money toward Sex Week, based solely on the nature of the event, would be a violation of free speech rights. 

Tennessee lawmakers have been trying for years to thwart the student-run Sex Week, proposing several bills intended to block the event from happening. There have been no protests on campus against Sex Week, nor any mass effort by the community to stop it -- lawmakers simply believe the event is inappropriate for adults. Students did protest on campus in April against the bill that has now become law.

The university doesn't provide funding for Sex Week, so in 2014, the state legislature pressured the school into requiring students to "opt in" to paying fees that support all student-organized events. 

Sex Week typically features forums and workshops about different types of sexuality and sexual orientation, teaching students about consent, healthy relationships, body image and other types of sexual education students might not have gotten in middle school or high school.

Tennessee lawmakers targeted the promotion of gender-neutral pronouns, used for people who do not identify as either male or female, following erroneous reports that the school was banning the use of the pronouns "he" and "she." It was not -- the now-defunded diversity office was simply providing information to students about what gender-neutral pronouns are, and when someone might request their use.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that the new law requires the University of Tennessee to put about $100,000 toward creating decals for cop cars. In fact, that provision was not included in the final version of the legislation.

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Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter covering higher education, and is based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

 

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