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California braced for battle over gays in textbooks
Fri Apr 7, 2006 10:34 AM ET
By Jim Christie
SAN FRANCISCO, April 7 (Reuters) - California school textbooks would highlight the role gays have played in the history of the nation's most populous state if a new proposal that has angered conservatives passes the state Legislature.
History books record contributions by gays but their sexual orientation is often ignored, a situation gay activists say is inexcusable in California, home to a large gay population in San Francisco, a city that briefly made history in 2004 by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The proposed bill would require school textbooks to include lessons on how gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons have helped California develop.
Conservative groups say the proposal before lawmakers goes too far and promise a hard fight in California's ideologically divided Legislature. They say it is another bold political move by gay-rights advocates who last year lobbied the Democrat-led Legislature to pass a bill to allow same-sex marriages.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that legislation, but has not taken a position on the new bill.
"This bill would also prohibit anything that reflects adversely on those people," said Karen England of the conservative Capitol Resource Institute.
"They're after their lifestyle to be embraced and they want to force it on kids as young as kindergarten."
If the bill by Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the Legislature's first openly gay member, becomes law, it would have a national effect because California is the biggest U.S. market for school textbooks, England said.
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay-rights group and supporter of Kuehl's bill, said the legislation would shed light on a community not discussed in public school books.
One figure activists say merits a place in history texts is San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official of a major U.S. city. Another city supervisor shot and killed Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978.
"Public schools should be teaching about all of our history and not deliberately excluding," Kors said. "What this bill does is it ensures that students get a full and complete education."
The bill would amend California's education code to revise its list of groups whose roles in the history of the state and nation are included in textbooks.
It would add "people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender" to the list, which currently includes various ethnic groups.
Kuehl was unavailable to discuss her bill, which the state Senate Judiciary Committee passed on Tuesday by a 3-1 vote with only Republican Senate leader Dick Ackerman opposed.
It still needs to win approval by the Senate and the state Assembly before being passed to Schwarzenegger.
"It's overreaching on many levels," Ackerman said, adding he expects the Democrat majority in the Senate to ensure its passage.
Calif. Bill Would Mandate Gay Studies
by Mark Worrall, 365Gay.com San Francisco Bureau
April 7, 2006 - 1:00 pm ET
(San Francisco, California) Groups already pushing for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage are girding for a major battle over legislation that would mandate the teaching of LGBT history in California schools.
The measure has already passed one Senate committee and appears likely to hit the floor later this spring. Supporters say they are measurably confident the bill will pass both houses this session.
But whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign it is unknown. He has been supportive of some LGBT rights measures but vetoed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.
The education bill was authored by Senator Shelia Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) the only openly lesbian member of the legislature.
“Students deserve an education that gives them a full and accurate picture of our history and society rather than one skewed by negative images and stereotypes,” said Kuehl.
Her bill would require that the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, like other underrepresented groups, be included in social science curriculum.
One student who testified in favor of the bill said that when students learn about the people who shaped history they seldom hear that many of those people were gay.
"I believe that many of society's values are rooted in education, and with an inclusive and more diverse curriculum, we can break down the stereotypes that are obstructing the way to acceptance for all," said Juliana Spector, a senior from Piedmont High School in Oakland.
But conservatives are demanding that the governor stand up now and voice opposition to the legislation. The Campaign for Children and Families, one of two groups pushing to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, denounced the education bill.
``We're totally opposed to inserting sexual orientation into textbooks in our schools, Karen England, executive director of the public-policy group Capital Resource Institute told the Mercury News.
Nevertheless, LGBT rights groups across the country are closely watching the progress the bill makes. If it becomes law similar legislation could be pursued in other states.