Tuesday, April 19, 2011

California May Require Teaching of Gay History

LOS ANGELES — In California public schools, students are required to
learn about black history and women’s history. And if a bill approved
by the State Senate this week becomes law, the state will become the
first in the country to mandate that schools also teach gay history.

While the bill does not set specific requirements about what should be
taught to students, it does say that contributions of gays and
lesbians in the state and country must be included in social science
instruction. So Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected
officials in the state, and Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist,
may take a prominent place in the state’s history books.

Advocates say that teaching about gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender people in schools would prevent bullying and shatter
stereotypes that some students may harbor. They point to several
students who have committed suicide after being taunted by peers for
being gay. But the bill has drawn vociferous criticism from opponents
who argue that when and how to talk about same-sex relationships
should be left to parents.

A similar bill was approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature
in 2006, but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that
school curriculum should be left up to local schools. But there is a
new governor now. And both supporters and opponents of the bill expect
it will sail through the heavily Democratic Assembly and be signed
into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has been supportive of
gay rights.

“It is very basic to me that people dislike and fear that with which
we are less familiar,” said Mark Leno, who sponsored the bill and is
one of the first openly gay men elected to the State Senate. Students
who come to view their fellow classmates as regular members of
society, rather than misfits, will find that “their behavior changes
for the better,” Mr. Leno said.

Some school districts, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have
already put in place such a curriculum. But even in those more liberal
areas, Mr. Leno said, students may not realize how recently gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have been given more
rights. For example, he said, many teenagers would be shocked to learn
that it was just more than a decade ago when the state legally
prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians is precisely what
bothers some of the opponents of the legislation. Craig De Luz, a
conservative activist and school board member from Sacramento, said
that in many communities “the issue of homosexuality is far from

“There is still a big cultural discussion of: Is it something that one
chooses, or is it something that someone is born with,” Mr. De Luz
said. “It is all part of the same agenda, which is largely about
social acceptance. Now this is a way of endorsing a lifestyle that
many people are morally opposed to.”

Bob Huff, a Republican from San Bernardino, said he worried that the
bill would water down the state curriculum and distract students from
learning the basics.

“To have something this nebulous just opens it up to problems,” Mr.
Huff said. “At what age do you start doing this instruction? What is
age appropriate and what is appropriate at all is really a question we
haven’t answered.”

Carolyn Laub, the director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, who
lobbied for the legislation, cited the experience of an Orange County
student as an example of how the law might work. When the student
learned that the civil rights protests of the 1960s would be discussed
in history class, he asked the teacher to talk about the Stonewall

“Suddenly students see he is part of a broader community, and they
have a much better understanding of that community in the context of
the rest of the world,” Ms. Laub said. “It has absolutely nothing to
do with sex; it’s about entire communities that are left out.”- SOURCE: THE NEW YORK TIMES

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