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COLORFUL HISTORY: Learning about Stonewall will apparently turn students gay, according to opponents of a new bill.


Gov. Brown signs simple LGBT education bill; opposition decries so-called homosexual agenda

By Leilani Clark

In the early morning hours of June 27, 1969, after countless police raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, gays and lesbians finally fought back. The ensuring three days of bottle-throwing, broken windows and street fighting has gone down in history as the Stonewall riots, and is acknowledged as the important beginning of the gay rights movement.

With the signing of the FAIR Education Act by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, key LGBT historical events like Stonewall may now be included in California textbooks and curriculum. Known as SB 48, the law requires that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, as well as the disabled and Pacific Islanders, be included in social science curricula for their historical contributions to California and the United States. The first of its kind in the nation, SB 48 could mark a sea change in how LGBT people are represented in the classroom.

"I know that as an educator, the more voices that we can bring to our discussion and the more perspectives we can teach kids about enriches their learning and their ability to be in the world," notes Piner-Olivet Union School District superintendent Jennie Snyder. With nine years of experience as a middle-school social studies teacher prior to her entry into administration, Snyder says the FAIR Education Act is in accordance with the goals of history and social science instructors: to teach about current challenges and problems in a historical context. "I don't see [SB 48] as being a conflict; I see it as having the potential for enriching those learning experiences," says Snyder.

Supporters say that the FAIR Education Act brings classroom instruction into alignment with nondiscrimination laws around race, gender and ethnicity that were already adopted by the State Board of Education a decade ago.

"What a student learns about gay civil rights or leaders with disabilities in the curriculum would be developed with input from teachers and parents at the local school district level," notes Rebekah Orr, communications director for Equality California, the San Franciscobased gay rights organization that co-sponsored the bill with the Gay Straight Alliance.

Yet a group calling itself the Stop SB 48 Coalition claims the FAIR Education Act infringes on parents' rights to decide what their child should or shouldn't learn in school, and that it promotes a "homosexual agenda." Within a day of the bill's signing, the coalition filed documents with the attorney general's office to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot to repeal the bill. The group is looking to collect approximately 500,000 signatures by early October.

"This legislation cheapens and discredits the education process by requiring that the history curriculum highlight historical figures' sexual orientation," says Brad Dacus by phone. Dacus is president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which has a history of lobbying against gay marriage and hate crimes legislation.

Dacus goes on to call the bill "social indoctrination" that "allows instruction that puts the homosexual or transgender lifestyle in a positive light irrespective of the facts as recorded in history."

Whatever those facts may be, Equality California representative Orr says that the antiSB 48 forces are twisting them. "We know every campaign we've ever fought on any equality issue has come down to one thing: the lies and stereotypes perpetrated by our opponents about LGBT people," she says.

Orr adds that Equality California has partnered with the Service Employees International Union to create a hotline where people can record the location of antiSB 48 petitioners. After receiving a call, trained volunteers will go out to "educate" the signature gatherers about the FAIR Education Act.

Part of the "re-education" may address how the teaching of LGBT contributions has been shown to lessen incidences of bullying. According to the Preventing School Harassment Survey by the California Safe Schools Coalition, in schools where students report having learned about LGBT people in the curriculum, 11 percent of LGBT students say they've been bullied. Conversely, in schools where the majority of students say they haven't learned about LGBT people, that number jumps to 24 percent.

Superintendent Snyder says that while she's not familiar with these studies, she does see a direct connection between the two. "Once we can open up things for discussion, it sort of demystifies them," says Snyder. "Rather than having it be something that is the other or distant or the unknown, you bring that into an awareness that these are people who have made contributions. These are people who are not unlike your classmates and people that you encounter in your community. I think that is central to what we do as teachers."