A Senate education panel in Tennessee has approved a bill to prevent students from learning about homosexuality in public elementary and middle schools.

The legislation, known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, was introduced by Republican Senator Stacey Campfield, who has been pushing for the law for several years.

As introduced by Mr Campfield, it would have banned all teachers up to the eighth grade from discussing homosexuality in class.

Another Republican Senator, Jim Tracy, argued that current law already prohibits this, as teachers may not teach any sex education that is not part of the state Board of Education’s “family life curriculum”.

Instead, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Mr Tracy proposed an amendment to the bill to require the Board of Education to investigate whether any teaching on homosexuality is taking place and to make recommendations on what should be done.

Another amendment, tabled by Republican Brian Kelsey, sought to place an explicit ban on teaching about homosexuality in the Board of Education’s standards once the review is completed next year.

Both amendments were approved and the revised bill passed by 6-3 votes. It will now go to the Senate floor.

The bill states: “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”

The Tennessee Equality Project says the bill is objectionable on a number of levels.

Speaking last month, Ben Byers from the group said: “The Don’t Say Gay bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach.

“It limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom. It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”

Mr Campfield’s office said: “The bill is neutral. We should leave it to families to decide when it is appropriate to talk with children about sexuality – specifically before the eighth grade.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the UK in 1988.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act prevented schoolteachers from educating children about homosexuality, and “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, but it was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in the rest of the UK in 2003.