Karen Ocamb

EQCA Names New Interim ED: Nothing on FAIR Act Repeal Initiative

Filed By Karen Ocamb | March 01, 2012 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Cary Davidson, Clarissa Filgioun, EqCa, Equality California, FAIR Education Act, Laurie Hasencamp, organizational leadership, Roland Palencia

Header for the old coalition to fight Stop SB 48

Last Thursday, Feb. 23, Equality California Board President Clarissa Filgioun and Institute President Cary Davidson announced the selection of LGBT ally Laurie Hasencamp as EQCA's Interim Executive Director. The EQCA presidents said in a press release that they had "promised to keep you informed about our progress" since Roland Palencia's abrupt resignation last October. "We have seized this moment to take stock, to look at the big picture and to ensure that Equality California is well-positioned to continue to lead the LGBT equality movement in California."

Really? What leadership? EQCA has been MIA for so long, no one's really noticed their absence. The press release noted that the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the Gill Foundation "have invested significantly" in EQCA - but for what, exactly? We know Haas invested in "The Breakthrough Conversations," which was launched last October and was described by Haas's Matt Foreman as having "the potential to be a real game-changer for the marriage equality movement….It's no secret we need to demolish the ugly 'harms kids/schools' mantra once and for all and this will go a long way by developing new, sophisticated tools, trainings and tactics."

And yet nowhere do the EQCA board presidents talk about the fact that the antigay initiative to repeal the California FAIR Education Act was cleared to gather signatures last Tuesday, Feb. 21 nor is there a link to the coalition website set up when the antigay forces were shooting for a referendum. The old Stop SB 48 website (referring to the legislative number given the FAIR Act) notes that they are updating for their new initiative that they intend to call the Class Act of 2012.

Here's the Attorney General's title and summary for the antigay initiative, posted on the Secretary of State's website:

Education. Repeals Non-Discrimination Requirements for School Instruction. Narrows Requirement that Students Study Role and Contributions of Various Groups. Initiative Statute.

Summary Date: 02/17/12 | Circulation Deadline: 07/16/12 | Signatures Required: 504,760

Proponents: Jack Hibbs, Rochelle L. Lara, John M. Song, Galina Bondar, Thomas Mui c/o Karen England (916) 591-8099

Repeals requirement that schools prohibit instructional materials that discriminate against persons based on their gender, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other characteristics. Repeals requirements that school instructional materials recognize societal contributions of various groups to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States. Prohibits exclusion of a historical figure from instructional materials solely on the basis that the historical figure is a member in, or possesses a characteristic associated with, a specified protected group. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: This measure would not impose additional costs on school districts. (11-0093) (Full Text)

Four other similar initiative proposals also cleared for circulation, but the Bay Area Reporter notes that only one by Richard Rios will likely receive follow up. Here's that measure's language:

Education. Permits Parents to Excuse Children from Instruction in Social Sciences and Family Life. Initiative Statute.

Summary Date: 01/13/12 | Circulation Deadline: 06/11/12 | Signatures Required: 504,760

Proponent: Richard Rios (714) 333-0340

Allows a parent or guardian to request that a public school excuse their child from instruction in family life or social sciences when such instruction conflicts with the religious training and beliefs or personal moral convictions of the parent or guardian. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Minor school district costs to accommodate students who request to be excluded from certain instruction. (11-0075) (Full Text)

When the initiatives were filed last December, EQCA condemned the filings, with Filgioun saying:

What our opponents have shown us is that they will seize any opportunity, however small, to launch large-scale attacks on LGBT people. The FAIR Education Act was created from a basic concept: that California schools should teach accurate history that is inclusive of the roles of all people.

But if anti-equality advocates have their way, California schools will instead become a breeding ground for extremism. Schools will no longer be prohibited from adopting materials that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Parents will be able to pull their kids from social studies courses that include any references to LGBT people. Who ‘counts’ as a minority for the purpose of teaching history will be redefined. And, schools will no longer be required to include or acknowledge the role of LGBT people in the history of California or our nation. The effect on schools will be chilling and the impact on students--especially LGBT youth--could be devastating.

We can’t--and we won’t--let anti-LGBT extremism get a foothold in our schools. We’re prepared to do everything in our power to prevent these measures from reaching the ballot and to defeat these measures at the ballot if we must." Four additional initiatives attacking the FAIR Education Act have also been filed by other proponents. Proponents of each initiative have 150 days from the date the initiative petition is approved for circulation to collect more than 504,760 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. However, the initiative measure must qualify at least 131 days before the November general election.

There was no such heated language in the most recent press release, nor any mention of a Decline to Sign campaign.

But Filgioun was on point. In an email for their failed referendum attempt, Stop SB 48 touted the importance of "the People's Vote" and wrote:

SB 48 will teach children as young as five to not only accept but also endorse transgenderism, bisexuality, and homosexuality through our social sciences curriculum specially history, history books and instructional materials. SB 48, misrepresented to the public, was passed as a bill aimed to end bullying. But whatever the stated goal, the actual provisions of the bill say nothing about bullying. Instead, they require all public schools -- including charter schools -- to include studies on transgender, bisexual, and gay Americans in their social science courses. The sponsors have repeatedly said SB 48 would be integrated into courses for California students in grades K-12.

Missing from EQCA's press release is information about what happened to the grassroots coalition organized by Palencia to combat the Stop SB 48 referendum. Missing, too, is any information on how well or badly the Stop SB 48 crowd is doing raising money and volunteers. Mid-December, they seemed pretty disorganized.

Also - is there a Who Does What assignment list and agenda for the Protect the FAIR Education Act coalition? There are a lot of organizations listed – but who's responsible for what activities? And who are the leaders? Rumor had it for a while that the LA Gay & Lesbian Center's Dave Fleischer, author of the Prop 8 Report, (which was challenged by Love Honor Cherish) has become the de facto campaign director.

EQCA Communications Director Rebekah Orr told me in January that EQCA is raising a lot of money, and doing a lot of ground work and outreach. She also said:

Public opinion/ballot title research: We are gearing up to do comprehensive public opinion research on the FAIR Education Act, as well as doing the fundraising required to conduct research to identify the best potential ballot title language, which will allow us to make informed and strategic recommendations to the Attorney General's office. Consider this: If these measures reach the ballot, we will spend millions on advertising and public outreach to persuade and educate voters. But, even after all that, many voters may not see or remember that work on Election Day--but they will all see the ballot language. We know from our last round of polling on FAIR that the wording has a huge impact on support or opposition to the measure, so getting this right is critical.

What's happened with that research? Is anyone considering using Gov. Brown's message when he signed openly gay Sen. Mark Leno's bill on July 14, 2011:

“History should be honest. 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. It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Senator Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

The selection of Hasencamp, a straight ally with a strong background in supporting LGBT equality, could actually turn out to be brilliant, considering that Prop 8 passed in 2008 largely because women were moved to vote Yes in the last stage of the campaign because of the potential "threat" same sex marriage posed to their children.

In an in-depth interview with me after Prop 8 passed, campaign consultant Steve Smith said the No on Prop 8 campaign was winning back the critical undecided women’s vote until the Yes ad featuring the San Francisco Chronicle story on the kids surprising their beloved lesbian teacher at her City Hall wedding.

“I think we lost because fundamentally we didn’t get enough votes from women. If the issue was marriage, we were going to win them. When the issue rotated to their kids and their kids ‘in kindergarten’ – it was a huge problem for us. Without the wedding on the steps at City Hall, I think we would have won this issue. In fact, I think we would have won the campaign,” Smith said. But “you can’t win a marriage campaign debating kids in school because people will vote for their kids every time.”

Hasencamp will be Interim ED for the next four-six months and will "support the staff and boards of directors as they advance the great work that has already been done and continue the work to position EQCA for future success under the leadership of a new executive director when the time comes."

Equality California might not need a new executive director if the organization fails to step up and play a real and active leadership role in the effort to protect the California FAIR Education Act. Why follow "leaders" who pump out press releases but are Missing In Action?

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