"Don't Say Gay" bill could cause challengers to enter race - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

"Don't Say Gay" bill could cause challengers to enter race

Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry is under fire for supporting the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill. Now opponents of the bill are targeting him. Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry is under fire for supporting the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill. Now opponents of the bill are targeting him.

(WMC-TV) - Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry is under fire for supporting the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill. Now opponents of the bill are targeting him.

DeBerry is a lawmaker, a businessman and a minister. Redistricting expanded his Midtown Memphis constituency right into the heart of the gay and equal rights community.

Midtowner Jonathan Cole said the ground has shifted beneath DeBerry's feet and he has a new constituency to answer to.

"As I look at the voting record of Rep. John DeBerry, it's clear to me he does not represent the values, the progressive values, of his new, redrawn district," he said.

So Cole is circulating a letter around Midtown.

"My letter is a call for support to try to find a candidate who can beat him in this next election in 2012," Cole said.

The Republican-controlled legislature recently redistricted DeBerry. Now, the northern portion of his district fishtails farther into Midtown Memphis than it did previously.

"It is their right to find someone who they believe will follow whatever directions they give them, rather than working for the entire public good," DeBerry said in response to the letter.

DeBerry said he's had the same values for his entire 18 years in office.

Meanwhile, Cole said DeBerry's vote on House Bill 229 first caught his eye.

"A bill that would take the power away from teachers to confront bullying in the classroom," Cole said, describing the bill. "We call it the ‘Don't Say Gay' bill."

HB229 "prohibits the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8."

DeBerry said everybody has a right to their personal lives, but there is a line.

"The issues come up here when we start talking about public places and impressionable children and others," he said.

After looking at DeBerry's position on HB229, Cole went back and inspected the legislator's overall voting record.

"It's not just being anti-gay. He has also voted against the interest of women's reproductive health," said Cole. "He sponsored legislation that would prevent gay couples from adopting in the State of Tennessee."

"I give everybody the right that the Constitution gives them," DeBerry said. "But that does not give them the right to change my opinion and that doesn't give me the right to change theirs."

And DeBerry said the backlash won't change his vote.

"I haven't changed those beliefs," he said. "I haven't changed those convictions and I'm not going to start right now."

Cole said a list of potential candidates is emerging less than 24 hours after he sent out the letter, but he would not share any names.

The filing deadline for a Democrat to run is as early as April.

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