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Posted on Thu, May. 04, 2006
Senate committee passes bill to include gays in textbooks
Issue heads to full vote; critics say material will indoctrinate students in what they view as unacceptable lifestyle
By Juliet Williams
SACRAMENTO - A Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require California's textbooks to include the contributions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to the state's and nation's history.
The bill outraged members of some religious and conservative family groups, who said the bill would indoctrinate students in what they view as an unacceptable lifestyle.
The Senate Education Committee passed the bill by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, 8-3, along party lines. It now goes to the full Senate.
"Our community is invisible in all of the teaching material, so that our students are never, ever given any information about the fact that somebody who did something good was a gay person. That changes the way you feel about someone," said Kuehl, who was the state's first openly gay legislator.
She and members of Equality California, a gay rights group that sponsored the bill, said gay and lesbian students are less likely to feel isolated and even drop out of school if they see themselves represented in the material they learn at school.
Marina Gatto, a 17-year-old senior at Mercy High School in Burlingame, testified that she has faced discrimination at school because she has two lesbian mothers. She said that once a teacher explained that AIDS was spread by gay people as punishment for their lifestyle.
"This bill doesn't say that you have to be in favor of the gay rights movement, it doesn't say that you have to be a part of it. All it says is that you have be educated," Marina said after she testified. "I think there's nothing wrong with education."
Opponents, who filled several rows in the meeting room, derided the bill as encouraging homosexuality. Their testimony even sparked heated exchanges with some Democratic committee members.
Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based conservative "pro-family" group, said Californians already are aware of the gay rights movement and don't need it "mandated in our curriculum."
"This conversation belongs in the bedroom and not in the classroom," she said.
She noted that many schools recently held a student-organized Day of Silence to protest discrimination against gay students.
Sen. Jackie Speier, however, equated learning about the accomplishments of gays to the women's suffrage movement and demonstrations in favor of equal rights for blacks.
Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, the only committee member who spoke against the bill at Monday's hearing, said Kuehl herself is likely to be noted as a pioneer in future history textbooks.
But he said her bill goes too far, requiring that sexuality be included even when it's not relevant to a person's accomplishments.
"For instance, where John Marshall of course discovered gold in California that ultimately led to the 1849 gold rush and California as a state. Now, I don't have any idea whether John Marshall was gay or transgender or whatever, but even if he was, certainly whether or not he was, doesn't add to or subtract from the contribution he made to California history," Morrow said.
Responded Kuehl: "I heard the same argument in the '50s and '60s and '70s. Who cares if Langston Hughes was black? He was just a great poet. Well, black students had no black role models."
State law already prohibits the board from adopting textbooks containing material that portrays people negatively because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.
It also requires the inclusion of contributions from "Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans and members of other ethnic and cultural groups to the total development of California and the United States."
California spends more than $400 million a year on textbooks and is the nation's largest purchaser. Its social science texts will next be revised in 2012.
If Kuehl's bill becomes law, it would be referred to the California Department of Education, where a committee would advise textbook publishers about the new state standards, said Sue Stickel, the department's deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, criticized state lawmakers for wasting their time on what he said are irrelevant issues.
"While half the Hispanic and black students drop out of school, this Legislature is sexually indoctrinating our students," he said.
He said his group would ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pledge to veto any similar measure that comes before him.
Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Schwarzenegger does not take positions on bills before they come before him to be signed.
Committee OKs bill to add gays, lesbians to textbooks
Hotly debated measure heads to state Senate
- Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Sacramento -- After a sometimes emotional debate centering on discrimination and sexual orientation, a Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require that the contributions of gays and lesbians be included in textbooks.
Supporters argued that all students should be made aware of the role that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have made, but state curriculum has no such requirement.
Opponents countered that discussion of sexual orientation should occur at home and not be mandated in schools.
Not requiring that gays be included in instructional materials creates the "enforced invisibility that so many minority groups have gone through in terms of their contributions to California history," Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, told the Senate Education Committee in support of her bill.
The committee approved the bill, SB1437, on a party line 8-3 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor.
Kuehl's measure has attracted national attention because California represents about 12 percent of the nation's textbook market.
State law already prohibits discrimination based on race, color and gender, among other things, in textbooks. The bill would bar textbooks from discriminating against gays.
It also orders school boards to use instructional material that reflects the "sexual diversity" of society and include the contributions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Opponents say the bill will turn schools into "sexual indoctrination centers" and complain it takes away the discretion of local school boards in deciding what's best in the classroom.
"This bill only seeks to advance acceptance of certain sexual lifestyles in California," said Benjamin Lopez of the Traditional Values Coalition.
Karen England, executive director of the Capital Resource Institute, said discussion about sexual orientation belongs "in the bedroom, not in the classroom" and that sexual orientation is not germane to a person's historical significance.
"I care about their accomplishments. I don't care who they slept with," England told the committee.
A line of witnesses testified they opposed the bill, including one man who said he opposed the measure on behalf of all "true Christians."
Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena (Los Angeles County), the committee chairman, snapped: "Do you have the ability to know what a true Christian is?"
Sen. Nell Soto, D-Pomona (Los Angeles County), dedicated her "yes" vote to her to a gay classmate from her youth who ultimately killed himself and to her mother who told her to befriend the boy because he had been ostracized.
Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, told the committee his deceased younger brother was gay.
"It wasn't the textbooks. It wasn't his upbringing. It wasn't his choice," Torlakson said. "My belief is it's biological destiny."
Adopting Kuehl's proposed change to state curriculum means "we're reflecting our history. We're reflecting reality," Torlakson said.
If approved by the Senate, the bill moves to the Assembly, where it faces at least one committee vote and a vote of the full Assembly.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the bill.
E-mail Greg Lucas at email@example.com.
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