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Feminist Daily News Wire
May 23, 2006
California Senate Bill Set to Improve Equality of Education for LGBT Youth
The state of California is one step closer to achieving equity in education for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, after a bill introduced to the state legislature by openly gay state Senator Sheila Kuehl was passed by the Senate. Current anti-discrimination laws include protections for students based on race, sex, disability, and religion. California State Senate Bill 1437 (SB 1437) would amend the law to include categories of sexual orientation and gender to existing criteria used to create courses of study designed to promote diversity in the public school curriculum. In addition, SB 1437 would prohibit the inclusion of official teaching materials that reflect adversely on people because of their sexual orientation or gender.
Research by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Net demonstrates that harassment based on sexual orientation causes an increase in suicide rates and truancy in LGBT students. Kuehl’s office notes that most perpetrators of hate crimes believe they are not breaking any social norms by attacking those they perceive to be lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual. Inclusion of LGBT contributions to the larger curriculum can then create a safer environment for students by increasing awareness of issues among peers: A study by the National Center for Lesbian Rights found that 67 percent of students in a study who were taught LGBT issues in the curriculum felt safer at school.
If the bill passes, curriculum may include such items as the 1978 assassination of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk or the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York. Initially introduced on February 22, the bill passed in the Senate earlier this month and currently awaits a hearing in the State Assembly in the coming weeks, followed by consideration by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Gays' place in textbooks: Debate is on
By Judy Lin -- Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:01 am PDT Monday, May 22, 2006
Story appeared on Page A12 of The Sacramento Bee
Lance Chih first read Walt Whitman's inspiring poetry in his state-approved 10th-grade literature textbook. It was easy for the newly out-of-the-closet teen to connect with the beloved poet's messages, particularly those about celebrating one's own individuality and identity.
"The ones we read in class, it meant something to me," said Chih, now 18 and about to graduate from Folsom High School.
He thinks it would have been helpful, though, to learn, too, that Whitman's groundbreaking lines carried more than one man's view on slavery, the working man and the American landscape. Whitman's work, such as the Calamus poems, a series written in 1860 that articulated intense affection between males, later made him the poster child for the gay liberation movement.
But Chih didn't learn that in class. He learned it a year later through his own readings and through friends in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Right now, California textbooks rarely broach the subject of sexual orientation. Students like Chih might see brief references to gays or lesbians in their social science textbooks, such as when being taught about the AIDS epidemic.
Senate Bill 1437, a state measure recently approved by the Senate that will now be vetted in the Assembly, seeks to change that by recognizing the contributions of the LGBT community in the social science curriculum in the same way the state has come to recognize the achievements of women and minorities.
The measure as currently drafted doesn't spell out how that would be accomplished; those decisions would be left up to the California Board of Education.
Supporters say passage of the bill could perhaps prompt teachers to expand a class discussion on literary greats like Whitman and Oscar Wilde, who was convicted and jailed for homosexuality. They say history books could teach about the gay rights movement and California politicians like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Opponents argue that the bill is unnecessary and carries an ulterior motive -- to force schools to promote homosexuality and alternative lifestyles. Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, calls SB 1437 a terrible infringement on a parent's rights because it teaches about something they may not support.
"It's a deceptively written bill that would do tremendous harm to our children," Thomasson said.
"The core of the bill is an absolute mandate requiring all textbooks, all instructional materials and all school-sponsored activities to positively portray transsexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals as role models for children as young as kindergarten."
Even if the bill makes it to the governor's desk, it's unclear whether he would sign it. While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed several gay rights bills, he vetoed one that would have legalized same-sex marriages.
The Republican governor has not taken a position on SB 1437. Neither has the state Board of Education, an 11-member body appointed by the governor.
Charged with adopting textbooks for grades K-8 and interpreting legislation, the board reviews the social studies curriculum every six years. The next time will be in 2009, with revised textbooks expected to reach classrooms in 2011.
Currently, the state's social sciences curriculum framework -- the blueprint on what schools should teach -- does not address gays. However, the state does say districts may consider holding a "factual, substantiated discussion" about homosexuality for middle and high school students in their health classes.
Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, who wrote SB 1437, sees it as a natural progression of the times. A statute was first inserted into state education code in 1968 to recognize the contributions of "American Negroes, American Indians and Mexicans." The statute has been revised over the years to erase politically incorrect terms and to include women and Asians.
Kuehl made history herself as the first openly gay lawmaker elected in California.
Equity California, which sponsored the bill, had lobbied unsuccessfully to include gays in textbooks the last time the Board of Education conducted a review, said Geoff Kors, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group. The Board of Education is advised on the changes by a curriculum commission made up of 12 members.
"What prompted us was the lack of inclusion," Kors said. "All the studies showed that there's a devastatingly high rate of suicide among these youth."
A national survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, found that bullying and harassment of LGBT youth remain pervasive in schools.
The survey showed that three out of four students hear derogatory remarks frequently at school. Nearly nine out of 10 students hear "that's so gay" in reference to being stupid or worthless.
Kors said an adverse climate contributes to lower grade point averages among these youths and a higher propensity to drop out.
Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, agreed that bullying and harassment have no place in school. However, he doesn't believe the bill is a panacea.
Morrow, who spoke out against the bill on the Senate floor, called the legislation unnecessary, noting there's nothing in the state's education code preventing schools or teachers from discussing homosexuality.
"It's not unreasonable to ask our school officials and those setting the curriculum ... to use their common sense," Morrow said. "If there is a logical link that the person's sexual proclivity has influenced their contributions, then by all means."
One example he used was California's gay rights movement. "It is part of our history, it is part of our present," Morrow said.
Opponents suggested the bill may even backfire on teachers who don't call attention to the contribution of gays.
"If they don't do it under this bill, they'd be subject to lawsuits," Morrow said.
Chih, a soft-spoken teen, can speak only from his own experience. The same year he came out to his father, he found himself sitting in his bedroom holding a kitchen knife to his wrist. Another time he took antidepressants and chased them with a bottle of Advil.
In his first suicide attempt, he left a voice mail on his high school counselor's phone.
"You told me to call whenever I thought about hurting myself, and I'm thinking about it now," Chih said, reciting his message.
Police officers arrived 15 minutes later and Chih was taken to a hospital, and later transferred to a mental hospital. Several relapses followed before he recovered.
"There was this emptiness. I just felt like I was falling, but not falling," said Chih, who has found new purpose advocating for gay rights.
Chih said he has had to seek out his own heroes in literature. A swimmer who once competed in the butterfly and freestyle relays, Chih admires the story of Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who revealed he was HIV positive when he hit his head in the 1988 Seoul Games and bled into the pool. He later came out as a gay man in his memoir, "Breaking the Surface." He now has AIDS.
While Chih had to wander the aisles of bookstores to find such heroes, he's hoping other students will only have to open their textbooks.
"These people that are already being taught having done great things -- to find out they're gay and have done great things. What we're hoping for is with that knowledge, (students) are not going to be as closed-minded or bigoted," Chih said.
Thomasson, of the Campaign for Children and Families, countered that a person's sexual practice has no place in academics.
"Does that mean kids have to learn who Abe Lincoln slept with?" he asked. "It detracts from it. It makes young kids squirm and giggle and older kids think the talk is about sex instead of somebody's true achievement."
The debate has already reached some classrooms. John Barris, who has taught English, history and other social science classes at Cordova High School for more than three decades, brought in a newspaper article about SB 1437 and ignited a class debate.
Barris believes the achievements of gays should be taught in the classroom, but that teachers need not identify them as gay.
He said Kuehl's bill is flawed because a teacher's decisions should be based on the accomplishments and contributions of that individual, not his or her sexual orientation.
"I'm not going to teach that (homosexuality is) good or bad," Barris said. "I'm not going to leave you out, but I'm not going to put you in just because you're gay."
Chih believes there are lessons to learn. For example, the gay rights movement was sparked by civil disobedience. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York was one of the first times in modern history a significant body of gay people resisted arrest when police raided gay bars.
Students whose memories may include the slaying of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard in 1998 could get a civics lesson on the subsequent push for hate crimes prevention.
"It's not talked about in U.S. history. It should be," Chih said.
About the writer:
The Bee's Judy Lin can be reached at (916) 321-1115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Los Angeles Times
School textbooks should be inclusive
May 20, 2006
Re "The fallacy of feel-good history," Opinion, May 16
I am a bit more comfortable with textbook publishers giving a "feel-good," inclusive, egalitarian, even pride-inducing history than with Diane Ravitch's version of history in which she would instill humility and a recognition of folly in the "pressure groups" she cites. A textbook is a starting place for young scholars, and it can be taught as such, not as the official history or the final word.
As for the dull writing, I would think the state Board of Education is able to influence that a bit. Do inclusiveness and sensitivity preclude drama and engaging narrative?
Ravitch worries that, with California's requirements that history texts portray all segments of the population equally rather than focusing exclusively on rich white men, the history being taught will become "inaccurate and dishonest."
I presume she must mean relative to the texts of my childhood — the ones that taught us how Columbus "discovered" America, how European immigrants "settled" the continent, how Abraham Lincoln single-handedly freed the slaves (who didn't really have it that bad) and how that nice man Woodrow Wilson one day decided to let women vote.
If California requires future historians to remind us that real history is made by the heroic struggles of real people of all sexes, ages, religions, races, incomes, sexual orientations and ability levels, this will be a vast improvement.
San Francisco Chronicle
One for the textbooks
- Debra J. Saunders
Sunday, May 21, 2006
THE MORE irrelevant a bill is, the more likely it is to pass in the California state Senate. This month the Senate passed by a 22-15 vote SB1437, sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that would require that California textbooks contain "age appropriate" information about the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in California and American history.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kuehl, she is the child actress who played Zelda in "The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis," as well as the first openly lesbian state legislator. Ergo, if passed in the Assembly and signed by the governor, her bill likely would place Kuehl in California textbooks.
That's nice for Kuehl, but I cannot believe it is good for California students. When close to 11 percent of seniors have flunked the high-school exit exam -- thanks to a Superior Court judge, they now can flunk the test and still graduate -- it is clear that California students need more education, not more political indoctrination.
There is every reason to believe this legislation would dumb down history. Kuehl points out that in the past the Legislature has required textbooks that note the contributions of women, blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. The result can be academic tokenism -- inflating, for example, the role of women in American history when women lacked the power to change the course of events.
A more intellectually honest -- and scholarly -- approach would be to require history texts to explore the everyday lives of ordinary people. That moves history class away from the old white guys and onto the lives of women, blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, as well as homosexuals -- without telling textbook publishers what they have to say and how to say it.
Yo. Since homosexuality has been taboo in America, most gay public figures were in the closet. In a sense, then, SB1437 sends this message to historians: Guess.
It is scary to ponder which historic figures pandering publishers might decide to "out" -- gay or not. Abe Lincoln? He shared a bed with a man, didn't he? Eleanor Roosevelt? She had a close friendship with a female reporter. J. Edgar Hoover? Sorry, he was just reputed to wear dresses, so he doesn't qualify for the chapter on important contributions by transgenders.
Arguments in favor of the bill have hardly been academic. Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, told her son that if the British hadn't jailed Oscar Wilde for homosexuality "he could have been as great as Shakespeare." Talk about your tangled web.
Then there's that old standby that if California doesn't pass laws that essentially promote homosexuality, children will die. Kuehl argued, "Silence and biased messages about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people only promotes negative stereotypes and this, in turn, can lead to discrimination, harassment and violence." A Senate analysis suggested the bill could prevent teen suicides.
All hail, as New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in The Chronicle, "history as therapy."
Or call it history as propaganda. I have no desire to gay-bash, as I recognize the trauma gay men and lesbians endure growing up in America. But there are plenty of other kids who struggle and suffer through their teens. Fat kids. Nerds. Devoutly religious kids who think homosexuality is a sin. You can't create a curriculum for all those roots of angst.
What bothers me the most is the left's -- be it noted, all those who voted for the bill were Democrats -- apparent scorn for knowledge as a jewel in and of itself. This bill threatens to rewrite history as gay advocates want it to have been, not as it really happened.
SB1437 highlights the intolerance of the gay lobby. Kuehl may think she is pushing tolerance, when in fact she is forcing her ideology onto other people's children -- whether they like it or not.
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