Yesterday, California lawmakers “sent the governor a bill that would make the state the first requiring public schools to include the contributions of gays and lesbians in social studies curriculum.” Proponents of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act argue that a state that requires schools to teach about “women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor” and has prescribed “specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust,” should certainly recognize the struggles and accomplishments of gay and lesbian people. The measure bill also would prohibit “discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the State Board of Education.”
But opponents fear that teaching LGBT history would confuse children or even turn them gay. Their opposition, sprinkled through today’s news reports, is particularly alarming given California’s existing commitment to diversity education and the success of those programs in increase tolerance towards minority groups. Below are some choice statements from chief opponent Assemblyman Tim Donnely (R) and Randy Thomasson, president of the group SaveCalifornia.com:
— “As a Christian, I am deeply offended.” [Donnely, LA Times]
— “I think it’s one thing to say that we should be tolerant. It is something else altogether to say that my children are going to be taught that this lifestyle is good.” [Donnely, AP]
— “Our founding fathers are turning over in their graves” [Donnely, AP]
— “This sexual brainwashing bill would mandate that children as young as 6 years old be told falsehoods — that homosexuality is biological, when it isn’t, or healthy, when it’s not, [Thomasson, AP]
The measure now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and would go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year if enacted. It does not mandate any specific plan or grade level for implementing the measure, leaving the matter to local school boards.
There is good reason for Brown to sign the measure. Schools that incorporate LGBT history into the curriculum report lower rates of anti-gay violence and bullying. The Preventing School Harassment Survey in California, for instance, has found that “schools where the majority of youth report having learned about LGBT people in the curriculum, only 11 percent of students report being bullied, but that number more than doubles to 24 percent if the majority of students in a school say they haven’t learned about LGBT people.” Similarly, the 2003 Preventing School Harassment Survey concluded that students who have learned about LGBT people at school were more likely to feel they have a voice at school and make positive contributions.
Meanwhile, opposition to the measure stems from the now thoroughly debunked and unsubstantiated fear that sexual orientation is a communicable condition and that it could be contracted by simply learning about gay people and their accomplishments. And that suggests that critics of the measure may need just as much education about gay and lesbian people as California’s school children.