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CA Governor Signs Landmark Bill on Gay History Education

July 15, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California is now the first state in the nation to require public schools teach students about gay history. Gov. Jerry Brown has just signed legislation that requires social studies classes to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in textbooks and other instructional material.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-Dist. 3), who authored the bill, says denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives young people an inaccurate view of the world around them.

"California has moved the civil rights movement forward. There's no reason to deny students the full understanding of the broad diversity of the human experience, and that's what this bill will do."

SB 48, known as the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act, passed last week in the Legislature along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing. Some conservative groups also opposed the bill, saying it would expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable.

But Mario Guerrero, government affairs director for Equality California, a sponsor of the bill, believes teaching gay history in public schools will help students be more accepting of gays and lesbians.

"We know that when the contributions of LGBT people are included in instruction, that bullying and harassment for all students lessens."

As Sen. Leno sees it, California schools rightfully teach about civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., but ignore a gay civil rights leader.

"But we don't teach students currently that there was a gay American man, by the name of Harvey Milk, who valiantly fought for everyone's civil rights and was assassinated for his efforts. Why would we teach one and deny the other?"

In addition to including the role and contributions of LGBT Americans, the bill ensures that the contributions of people with disabilities are included. It also adds sexual orientation to the state's existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities and instructional materials.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA