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Brown signs nation’s first law on gay perspectives in school texts

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the nation’s first law requiring the perspectives of gays, lesbians and transgender people in California school textbooks.

“History should be honest,’’ Brown said Thursday. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.’’

Currently, California schools are required to teach the perspectives, roles and contributions of African, Mexican, Asian, Native, and European Americans in California history. The legislation signed by Brown, SB 48 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, expands that requirement to include those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender – an inclusion that has been opposed by traditional pro-family groups and others.

The bil also seeks to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in the classroom. It is expected to have a significant impact on California public school courses in history, psychology, political science and communications.

As it wended through the Legislature, the bill ignited partisan passions, with widespread Democratic support and Republican disapproval. A similar bill introduced by former Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat, SB 1437, was passed in 2006 with the education sections amended, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Leno said his bill is intended to increase respect for LGBT individuals and prevent bullying and cruelty based on sexual orientation in California schools. Groups that include Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, among others, have backed SB 48, contending that it will promote an atmosphere of understanding and respect.

A number of churches and the Traditional Values Coalition, among others, denounced the legislation as unnecessary and costly. “At a time when our state lacks dollars to pay for the current needs in education,” said an earlier statement from the Lighthouse Baptist Church contained in a committee analysis, “this “Legislature is actually considering adding more financial burden on schools to pay for new textbooks that will teach so-called ‘gay history!’ “

Moreover, critics noted, former Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the Kuehl bill because it was vague and did nothing to improve requirements already listed in the Education Code.

But Equality California’s Mario Guerrero said the legislation was needed because “studies have shown that LGBT inclusion in curriculum is linked to greater student safety and lower rates of bullying. Additionally, accurate depictions of LGBT Americans in classroom materials teach all students to respect each other’s differences, thereby increasing students’ sense of belonging and ability to learn.”  

The new curricula are not explicitly stated in the language of the text, but they are likely to include information on LGBT advocates and leaders, such as slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin and the Stonewall Riots. According to Guerrero, the bill “would ensure that the LGBT civil rights movement is included in instructional materials just like we cover other civil rights movements.”

Promoting LGBT contributions in California classrooms has generated controversy among opponents and pro-Family groups.

Opponents believe that SB 48 will indoctrinate students with pro-gay propaganda and challenge traditional family values.

There also has been much criticism of the lack of an ‘opt-out’ clause for parents who disagree with the legislation.

Guerrero, citing legal cases, contends that parents do not have any general constitutional or statutory right to opt their children out of public school curricula in California.  He says public schools “cannot be expected to accommodate the personal, moral or religious concerns of every parent,” since this would “contravene the educational mission” of the schools.

Guerrero also said that “existing law requires social science instruction on men and women, African Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, Asians, Pacific Island people, and other ethnic groups to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”

There are also fears there simply won’t be enough time in the school year to adequately teach the updated curriculum, as well as the funding issues for the new textbooks.

SB 48 joins other legislation, such as AB 9, which are intended to tighten anti-bullying measures in California schools. AB 9, known as Seth’s Law, is sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who says it is designed to give schools and students more support and tools to deal with bully and harassment based on sexual orientation.

The Leno bill also includes provisions to include teaching about the contributions of Disabled, Pacific Islander and other ethnically diverse groups. Alternate and charter schools also would be covered by the bill.

Leno notes that his legislation is the first such bill mandating the public school teaching of gay perspectives in the United States. Because California is a large buyer of textbooks, the bill potentially could influence textbook contents throughout the country.

Ed’s Note: Updates earlier version with governor’s action and deletes dated material.


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