Karen Ocamb

California LGBT Education Bill: Backlash Ahead?

Filed By Karen Ocamb | July 08, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: California, gay history, Gov Jerry Brown, LGBT FAIR Education bill, religious right

On Tuesday, July 5, the California Assembly passed the FAIR Education Act, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), by a vote of 49-25. The bill, SB 48, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown who has up to 12 days to take action after he gets the bill. Though Brown is considered strongly pro-gay, his signature on the bill is not predictable.

Additionally, while the state Legislature sees the wisdom of leveling the playing field and including LGBT people as subjects worthy of inclusion in social science education, there has been strong opposition from the Religious Right, which claims the bill "sexualizes" education. Since the passage of Prop 8 was largely due to fears that children might be "forced" to learn about LGBTs and same sex marriage, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to think the Religious Right might mount another initiative campaign if Brown signs the bill.

The FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Act, sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, is a natural extension of the Harvey Milk Day, ensuring that the historical contributions of LGBT people are accurately and fairly portrayed in state instructional materials. The bill is designed to "inoculate" against arguments that children might somehow be defiled or corrupted if they learn LGBT people.

In some ways, the bill is deceptively simple: in addition to teaching about LGBT historical figures, it would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials. Leno placed the bill in the context of bullying and the rash of gay teen suicides, with research showing that disrespect declines when students learn about LGBT people.

Last March, Leno said:

“I think we've all been horrified by this ongoing phenomenon, if not crisis, of bullying going on within our schools, leading to tragic suicides among our LGBT youth in the past couple of years. And it seems to me that as human beings, it's not uncommon that we fear and dislike that which is uncommon or unknown to us."

California Sen. Mark Leno (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

After final passage in the Assembly, Leno said:

"We are selectively censoring history when we exclude LGBT Americans, or any other group of people, from our textbooks and instructional materials. We can't tell our youth that it's OK to be yourself and expect them to treat their peers with dignity and respect when we deliberately deny them accurate information about the historical contributions of Americans who happened to be LGBT."

Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, said:

"This is a victory not only for the LGBT youth in California who have been fighting to be heard in Sacramento and represented in their history classes, but also for all California youth who deserve to learn a fair and accurate account of California and US history. By passing the FAIR Education Act, the Assembly has taken an unprecedented step to reduce bullying, increase safety for all students, and teach students to respect each other’s differences."

Roland Palencia, who started his first day as executive director of Equality California with the victory, said:

"The struggle of the multicultural and multiethnic LGBT community in California is one of the greatest stories yet to be told. The FAIR Education Act will ensure that public schools acknowledge the heroism of individuals and communities who in spite of countless barriers continuously overcome adversity."

The bill already deals with the fiscal-impact issue, one of the reasons Brown might veto the bill, by saying the FAIR Act would only go into effect when the state regularly updates its instructional materials. Because of the dire state of the California economy, that date has now been put off until 2015.

Nonetheless, politically, passage of SB 48 is ripe for another initiative. I asked EQCA's Marriage Director Andrea Shorter about that at EQCA's May 22 town hall meeting in West Hollywood regarding going back to the ballot in 2012 to overturn Prop 8:

Andrea Shorter said:

We anticipate that there will be some organized pushback. We're already getting some indications - not so much in terms of an initiative drive but mostly in terms of their selecting and promoting people getting elected to school boards or city council. So we would anticipate - as we should - that they're going to move along that track. But as far as an initiative campaign at this point - no, there's no formal movement that we are aware of.

No formal movement - but a dank atmosphere nonetheless. Consider this Tweet from AndrewBreitbart during Wednesday's #Ask Obama session: "Would you let your children read the filthy books your fmr Safe School Czar officially recommended to school age kids? #AskObama

The Family Research Council claimed a "victory" Wednesday in the elimination of the US Education Department post formerly held by Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

It took 18 months of protest, but FRC can finally celebrate a major victory at the Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools. The agency, which (until two weeks ago), was headed by radical homosexual activist Kevin Jennings, has been eliminated. In a statement, the Deputy Secretary for Education announced that Congress had cut the Office’s funding by almost $80 million, and it could no longer operate at the level which the Department had grown accustomed. Starting this summer, its duties will be absorbed by another program–knocking the Office’s LGBT indoctrination campaign down several rungs on the Department’s ladder. For more than a year, FRC had fought the administration on Jennings’s appointment, which seemed to be a front for advancing the homosexual agenda in American classrooms. With the help of 53 Congressmen, FRC battled for Jennings’s removal, even launching a special website to inform parents about his real motives. Now, a year and a half after his appointment, the Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools is finally where it belongs: on the cutting room floor.

(Photo via Catholics for Common Good website)

The Religious Right is hoping for another victory in California with the defeat of SB 48 at the hands of the pro-gay governor. Bill May, the ubiquitous Chair of Catholics for the Common Good, has been issuing action alerts as the FAIR Act made its way through the various committees.

Yesterday, the Assembly Education Committee passed SB 48, the bill that will sexualize K-12 curriculum and textbooks. This was not unexpected. But, something unexpected did happen. The LA Times ran another editorial, this time calling for a debate between their reasons for opposing SB 48 and those of Catholics for the Common Good.....

The unnecessarily sexualization of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school is just one of the consequences of SB 48. During the hearing, Assemblyman Chris Norby of Fullerton asked the author, Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, what his intentions were for the bill. Norby, a former history teacher, mentioned that President James Buchanan was rumored to have had a sexual preference for men. Is it important for students to know that? Must we mention that historical figures, such as John Maynard Keynes, had a preference for women? Leno said that is just what the bill is about. It is important for children who may be LGB or T to have role models that they can identify with. If that is not sexualizing the K-12 curriculum, I don't know what is.May tells his readers to "go to our website for extensive background, talking points, and further instructions on how to oppose SB 48.

But May is not resting on his newsletters and action alerts. LA Archbishop Jose Gomez has come out against SB 48 and on July 27, May is the featured speaker at an event in Long Beach organized "in collaboration with the [Catholic] Archdiocese of Los Angeles Office of Justice & Peace." He's expected to "provide a major address illuminating the marriage crisis and its corrosive effects on almost every family. May will report on the imminent threats to marriage and family caused by new legislation in Sacramento and throughout the nation."

The antigay Capitol Resources Institute has been issuing action alerts all along, as well. In one newsletter, CRI

Image used by CRI in newsletter alert

Executive Director Karen England gave a preview of what could be talking points should the Religious Right decide to go to the ballot to overturn SB 48 - should Gov. Brown sign it:

"Last week, Paulo Sibaja, Legislative Director of CRI, testified against SB 48 before the Assembly Education Committee. You may view the video on Cal Channel, simply click here. His testimony starts at approximately 17:19. Several students who participated in our week-long Youth Leadership Conference City on the Hill also had the opportunity to testify against the bill.....

Contrary to SB 48′s title, the bill is not fair or inclusive. The bill is not inclusive because its main goal is to single out people whose viewpoints diverge from the homosexual, bisexual or transgender lifestyles. For example, many groups in California object to such a lifestyle for many reasons including but not limited to conviction, principle, religion, or a set of morals.....

Amending current code to prohibit material that adversely represents a group of people based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, is at least, glossing over true history. Race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation can and has, historically, played a role in some of humanities worst crimes. September 11th was an act of radical Islamic terrorist, Nazi Germany was birthed out of German nationalism seeking ethnic cleansing, the Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Rwanda was part of ethnic tensions; those are only three subjects affected by SB 48′s attempt to inaccurately retell history. As proposed in SB 48, textbook will adversely affect and inaccurately retell history’s harsh reality.

Every social science school material, including textbooks, will be deemed in violation of these bill should it become law because a history book discussing male historical figures whose wives (or vice versa) played a vital role in their achievements may be deemed by LGBT community supporters or members as adversely reflecting their community. Thus, California, currently facing a chronic budget deficit that stands at $25 billion, would be required to purchase new materials and books in order to suit the bill’s demands.

It is unfair to task children and students, many of which are struggling with basic math, language, reading, and science skills necessary for productiveness, with more politically divisive material that will not further their academic advancement.

Might these arguments work on Gov. Brown? Surely, not - he's so pro-gay. But he's a friend of the farm workers, too - and yet he vetoed a card check bill important to them.

EQCA executive Director Roland Palencia (Photo courtesy Debra Evans)

Therefore it is disconcerting that Equality California, the co-sponsor of SB 48 with the Gay-Straight Alliance, failed to automatically include an action alert at the end of their press release announcing the bill's passage TWO DAYS ago. The EQCA action alert from Roland Palencia, the new executive director, was finally sent out late Thursday after questions from a reporter on Wednesday. And it still fails to convey a sense of urgency:

It's time to end the exclusion of the LGBT civil rights movement from history and social sciences.

Tell Governor Brown to sign the FAIR Education Act — a bill that would ensure that students learn about the LGBT rights movement and the contributions of LGBT people.

The FAIR Education Act has passed the California Senate and Assembly. It now goes to Governor Brown for his signature. Not only would the bill ensure that history classes teach about the contributions of LGBT Americans, it would also ensure that LGBT people are never represented negatively in classrooms just because they are LGBT.

Anti-equality organizations like the California Family Council and the Capitol Resource Institute are mobilizing their bases and trying to convince the Governor to veto the bill. I think we can keep the Governor's support, but we have to act fast. We have to show him that we care about this issue even more than our opponents do.

Let Governor Brown know how important it is to you that students learn about our movement for equality, just as they learn about other movements for equality.

This bill will make schools safer for LGBT youth, reducing bullying through increased understanding. And it will help future generations understand why all people must be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The last step for this bill is the Governor's signature. Please tell him today to sign this critical bill.

If EQCA doesn't convey a sense of urgency in getting this bill signed, will the LGBT community simply shrug if Gov. Brown vetoes it? And while they anticipate a backlash from some Religious Right groups, is EQCA even thinking about the possibility of an initiative to overturn the FAIR Act if Brown signs it? Palencia told reporters that he hoped to hit the ground running when he assumed his new job. This is his first sprint.

(Crossposted at LGBT POV)

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This says it all
>It is unfair to task children and students, many of which are
>struggling with basic math, language, reading, and science skills
>necessary for productiveness, with more politically divisive
>material that will not further their academic advancement.

Although I would change the word unfair to unnecessary, and "politically divisive material" to "politically motivated material". It's almost as if some GLBT have found their equivalent of teaching creation in schools.

Brad Bailey | July 8, 2011 3:48 PM

Teaching LGBT history is not analogous to teaching creationism. The former is fact-based and historical; the latter is myth-based and religious. Creationism is pseudo-science, LGBT history is not.

Rachel Bellum | July 8, 2011 7:50 PM

Whenever someone wants to block a new idea at a school it seems like they start talking about how students are struggling. It may or may not be true, but it doesn't necessarily imply that the material should be made less interesting or less difficult. There is a lot of interesting evidence to suggest that children can learn more when presented with increased challenges.

American society is and always will be politically divided. It's implied in a democracy. That doesn't mean children should be blocked from learning.

Now, I don't feel I'm saying this because it's an LGBT issue, but...

While I believe that individual religious viewpoints deserve a proper amount of respect, we use objective measures of truth in order to achieve a consensus which we can all trust. Creationism and acknowledging LGBT people in history serve exact opposite functions in this regard. Creationsim reduces the objective description of the world using the tests to which we have agreed. Noting the historical significance of those we now consider LGBT reinforces these measures of objective reality.

Many people, including religious people, chose not to support Creationism at all. In my opinion, that says it all. Denying the historical reality of LGBT people is like hiding facts in a math class. We can't teach that 2+2=4 because two 2s joining together suggests improper homosexual themes and will only confuse children. People can take a religious studies class if they want to learn objective facts about Creationism, or any other religious subject.

More, learning to handle material which is possibly politically divisive and possibly even personally challenging does result in academic advancement. Learning to deal with facts objectively is important both academically and in the private business world. Keep in mind that the push for multicultural education in schools started in the corporate world because there are financial benefits to both employees and employers when people from a variety of backgrounds are able to work together to produce results. The more difficult the task assigned, the more likely it is that employees will be working on a team with people from various walks of life from all over the world. Employers value success and they prefer that potential employees have already learned these skills before they are hired. It saves them from having to train employees in basic social skills or from losing otherwise valuable employees.

The reason corporations have been changing their policies to improve the quality of life for their LGBT employees (perhaps even faster than political institutions) is because they reap financial rewards from doing so.

People are free to believe in creationism. They are free to believe that LGBT people didn't exist before 1990 if they wish. Individuals are free to believe that homosexuality is a Western disease.

Teachers cannot be allowed to be free to distort reality to suit their own agendas. It produces significant and measureable costs for individuals and society.

Acknowledging LGBT historical reality is no more sexualizing education than referencing the wives and husbands of straight historical figures. And requires no further details.

Very similar bull was spouted about acknowledging non-Whites and women in history. "There's just not enough time for all that 'extra' stuff. Why do we have to waste children's time with irrelevant material? There are just too many straight white U.S. males to study for this. And they're the important ones that children need to know anyway."

Society will benefit from people seeing themselves and others accurately reflected in the historical record the same way it has from these previous efforts. And so will individuals.