Tennessee Legislators Give Us the Future of the Culture War

Brave Bill Haslam, governor of the never-great state of Tennessee and a Republican, bravely faced a bill passed by the cowardly legislature. The bill targets a single office at a single public university: "State funds shall not be expended to support the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville." The original version of the bill said, really, that the funds would instead be used to place "a decal of the national motto on vehicles of local or state law enforcement agencies," but less stupid heads prevailed and the money was instead diverted to fund engineering scholarships to minority students.

However, the bill was also amended to include this fine bit of First Amendment-support: "State funds shall not be expended by the University of Tennessee to promote the use of gender neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support sex week." Yup, that's right. The men and women of the Tennessee legislature, Democrats and Republicans, were in a tizzy because UTK held a "sex week," where there were sessions like "Butt Stuff" and "How to Drive a Vulva." Imagine, at a college, where people are fucking nonstop all the time, the school hosted an event where people could talk openly about all the fucking in a positive, non-punitive way. But the cowardly legislature decided that no way, no how were hard-earned tax dollars gonna go to anything like vulva-driving workshops.

You can bet these were the same legislators who whined about "freedom" when it came to bakers and gay wedding cakes. But, hell, fuck it. Shut it down, said the legislature, and it sent the bill to Gov. Haslam.

And Haslam bravely let it become law without his signature. And the University of Tennessee's chancellor released a statement that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion would have to be shuttered starting in July.

What were the ODI's crimes? A newsletter from the UT Pride Center suggested alternative gender-neutral pronouns, which was met with a national outcry and derision, and then a memo that suggested that holiday parties should cut down on the Christian shit so everyone feels welcome. That went about as well as you might expect it would, with grandstanding legislators calling for the chancellor to resign.

We're seeing the next phase of the seemingly non-stop culture war. It's an attack on those ways that liberal discourse attempts to expand the community of the nation. The Tennessee legislature and, however passively, the governor have declared that there are people whose exclusion doesn't bother them one bit as long as they themselves remain comfortable and unchallenged.