Calif. lawmakers back gay, lesbian history in textbooks - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Calif. lawmakers back gay, lesbian history in textbooks

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Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 2:15 pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A controversial bill that would add the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to public school textbooks in California is headed to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown now that it has been approved by the legislature.

Supporters say the bill would make California the only state in the nation to require inclusion of LGBT people in textbooks, though no state bans teaching on that topic.

After a long and intense debate, the bill, SB48, was approved on a nearly party-line vote by the California Assembly Tuesday with one Republican joining Democrats to vote in favor. The bill adds LGBT Americans, as well as people with disabilities, to an already existing list of groups that must be included in social science instruction.

Those include African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other minority groups. A spokesman for Brown said the governor had not yet received the bill and "we generally do not comment until the governor takes action."

State Democratic Sen. Mark Leno, of San Francisco, introduced the bill and after it passed the Assembly he said, "We are selectively censoring history when we exclude LGBT Americans, or any other group of people, from our textbooks and instructional materials."

Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Democrat and the first gay person to hold the top office, said that by including specific historical contributions of gay and lesbian people, "We gain a greater appreciation for what it means to be an American."

He and other Democrats also noted the recent suicides of several young gay people, saying that talking about contributions of gays and lesbians could help to combat bullying of LGBT students and provide them with examples of accomplished role models.

Republicans in the Assembly who voted against the measure cited religious objections to homosexuality along with questioning whether the bill was actually needed.

Assemblyman Chris Norby, a Republican from Orange County, is a former high school history and government teacher and said that the Legislature should not "micromanage" school instruction. He also questioned how teachers could ascribe a sexual orientation to a historic figure when that person never identified as gay or lesbian -- he cited several examples including President James Buchanan and the economist John Maynard Keynes -- and when the terms didn't exist.

"I don't think this helps the teaching of history," Norby said. "I think it's a distraction."

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill.

It is not yet clear exactly what would be included in textbooks and, if the governor signs the bill, it would be several years until that is known. The process for updating textbooks statewide has been put on hold until the 2015-16 school year because of the state's budget situation.

And while the textbooks will eventually include information about LGBT people, the bill does not proscribe how that information would be used in an actual classroom lesson.

Still, backers of the bill say they believe it will lead to a school atmosphere that is safer for gay and lesbian students.

Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network that works to establish gay-straight clubs in schools, said, "The Assembly has taken an unprecedented step to reduce bullying, increase safety for all students and teach students to respect each other's differences."

The bill will be sent to the governor in the next few days and once he receives it Brown will have 12 days to decide whether to sign or veto the measure.

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