While the courts continue to debate the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle over gay civil rights is moving into another arena: the classroom.
State Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced legislation this week that would amend the state education code, mandating that LGBT history be included in the curriculum of public schools. The bill — dubbed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act — calls for accurate and fair portrayal of LGBT historical figures who have contributed to shaping social and political issues across the nation.
Leno said a shift in education policy would have a ripple effect by curbing widespread bullying of gay teens.
“I think we have all been very disturbed by the phenomenon of bullying and resulting suicides in the news here in California and across the nation in recent months,” said Leno, who is gay. “Information and knowledge is a great antidote to ignorance and fear.”
Most textbooks do not include any historical information about the LGBT movement, Leno said.
The proposal has already started to incite opposition from groups who say this is another attempt by liberal educators to drive a pro-gay agenda into the classroom.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense group that supported Proposition 8, the state’s same-sex marriage ban, said someone’s sexual orientation is not relevant to their contributions in history.
“This bill is no doubt an attempt to convert history into an opportunity for teachers and liberal educators to promote acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle,” Dacus said. “I think the majority of Californians think that’s not optimal usage of educational time.”
“I worry we might be sending the wrong message to kids,” said Candi Cushman, education analyst for public policy with Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based Christian ministry. “Ben Franklin is in history books because he discovered electricity and not because of his sexual choices.”
In 2006, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl introduced a similar bill, SB 1437, prohibiting teachers from using instructional materials that reflect adversely on the LGBT community. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later vetoed that bill, calling it a “vague protection” when state law already prohibits discrimination at schools based on sexual orientation.
Studies have shown that students who learn about LGBT events in the classroom report less harassment at school and have a greater feeling of safety, said Carolyn Laub, executive director for the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which co-sponsored Leno’s bill.