New California Law Requires LGBT History in Textbooks

On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that requires public schools to teach students about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender role models in America. California becomes the first state in the country to redesign social studies classes for children in K-12 schools with the new curriculum. The bill passed largely on a party-line vote by the Democratic-majority Legislature last week.

Those who support the bill, including Democratic state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, believe teaching gay history in public schools will help students to be more receptive of their fellow gay and lesbian students. Education Analyst Candi Cushman of Citizen Link, a Focus on the Family affiliate, worries that the bill does not allow parents first amendment rights to opt out if they feel the curriculum conflicts with their religious beliefs, or if they feel their child isn’t psychologically ready to handle issues of sexuality or gender identity.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, the first openly gay speaker of the California Assembly, says, “This bill will require California schools to present a more accurate and nuanced view of American history in our social science curriculum by recognizing the accomplishments of groups that are not often recognized.” But Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, thinks the existing laws already strongly address the anti-bias requirements on curricula and the problem of bullying through antidiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.

But Governor Brown says, “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.”

Benjamin Lopez, legislative analyst and advocate at The Traditional Values Coalition, says the bill classifies lesbians and gays as another ethnic group whose lifestyles would be promoted as a mainstream choice that children should explore. Thomasson insists that Governor Brown is not making history honest but dishonest. “This revisionist history will actually make more children believe a lie – that homosexuality is biological, which it’s not, and healthy, which it isn’t… The bill he signed prohibits teachers and textbooks from telling children the facts that homosexuality has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, higher cancer rates and earlier deaths. These important facts about lifestyles children will [be] forced to admire will be omitted”

“I think it’s a distraction,” says former high school teacher Republican Assemblyman Christ Norby who believes the new curriculum doesn’t help the teaching of history. The new additions to social studies textbooks could soon reach classrooms beyond California. As one of the nation’s largest states, many book publishers tailor their texts to California’s standards. Whether or not other states embrace the new social studies curriculum, we can be sure this bill does not address the crippling problems of our educational system. Seventeen states have high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, including a staggering 24.9 percent in Detroit, 30.5 percent in Indianapolis and 34.1 percent in Cleveland. Paulo Sibaja, legislative director of the Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento, believes the bill does “absolutely nothing to reduce bullying, improve the poor state of our education system, ensure students graduate or prepare them for global competitiveness.”

–David Rufful