California News

Bill: Teach LGBT history, contributions in school

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

California could soon be the first state in the union to require public schools to include contributions of gays and lesbians to their social studies curriculum.

State lawmakers passed the bill on Tuesday and sent it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. The measure adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as well as people with disabilities to the list of groups that schools must include in the lessons. It also would prohibit material that reflects adversely on gays.

Gov. Brown has not indicated whether he will sign it. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2006.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

SB48 would require, as soon as the 2013-2014 school year, the California Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that cover the contributions and roles of sexual minorities.

The legislation leaves it to local school boards to decide how to implement the requirement. It does not specify a grade level for the instruction to begin.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

Javier Pinedo was bullied at school for being gay. The recent high school graduate thinks it would have made a difference had he read about historical gay figures in school books.

"It probably would have let me know that it doesn't have to be so crappy for me. It doesn't have to be where I'm alone," said Pinedo.

Governor Jerry Brown is weighing a bill that requires public schools to teach the history and accomplishments of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Brown's decision could be significant because California is the largest textbook buyer in the United States, representing almost 15 percent of the $3.5-billion market. Publishers typically try to sell California editions to other states.

Social conservatives are ramping up the pressure on Brown to veto the bill. They don't think gay figures belong in textbooks.

"To get in a history book or social-science textbook, you have to do something that is important for everybody," said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com. "You have to do a product or a service, and you are judged on your contribution, not on what you did in the bedroom."

But the proposal's author, state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), calls it censorship when books ignore people like gay-rights champion Harvey Milk, or movements like same-sex marriage.

"We're denying our students a very important chapter in history, a chapter of civil rights," said Leno.

"If it'll make it safer for youth, I don't see why he wouldn't sign it," said Pinedo.

It's unclear what Brown will do. He's proven in the last couple weeks he doesn't always side with his party or constituents. If he does sign the bill, California is so broke, it can't afford to update textbooks until 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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