State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, proposed new legislation today to ensure that the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals do not go unnoticed by California students.
If enacted, Senate Bill 48 — the Fair Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful, or FAIR, Education Act–would prohibit the exclusion of LGBT people in school curriculum and instruction materials in grades K-12.
“Current law requires social sciences instruction to include a number of groups such as men, women, African Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, as well as other ethnic groups,” Leno said. “The new bill would insert LGBT individuals into that list.”
Not only would the bill add the LGBT community to the state-mandated list of underrepresented cultural and ethnic groups to be studied, it would also apply the state’s longstanding nondiscriminatory policies to education.
“It would create an alignment between classroom instruction and existing nondiscrimination laws that have been in the books for 10 years,” said Carolyn Laub, executive director for co-sponsoring organization Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
Although selected institutions are including LGBT accomplishments in their current instruction, Laub said that many instructors give a biased glimpse into the gay community.
“Often students say the only time they hear about LGBT individuals is when they learn about AIDS,” she said. “This kind of learning perpetuates stereotypes about gay men without explaining their positive contributions to society.”
Leno agreed that the distortion of LGBT history leads to harassment, a phenomenon the bill aims to reverse.
“We want to make sure that schools are not breeding grounds for the feared ignorance that fuels bullying, which can lead to hate, violence and suicide,” Leno said.
In 2006, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, authored a similar bill that was passed by both the state Assembly and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Leno said the incident reinforces the necessity for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.
“Clearly, there has been a need for this kind of legislation,” Leno said. “We have seen the violence, witnessed the bullying and heard about the resulting suicides. These tragedies only underscore the immediate need for the bill to be enacted as law.”
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, another organization co-sponsoring the legislation, said the bill would foster hope in students marginalized for their sexual orientation.
“Right now LGBT civil rights are not included in instruction,” Kors said. “For young people who are facing such a difficult time, especially those students who are actual or perceived members of the LGBT community, it’s crucial for them to learn about their history and to know that they’re not alone.”
According to Kors, the exclusion of LGBT studies is an injustice to all students, no matter their sexual orientation.
“It’s equally important that other youth learn about the full history of our nation,” he said. “To take away a part of history and hide it goes against the principles of good education. Not only that, but it is harmful.”
If the FAIR Education Act is passed, it will be up to the state Board of Education as well as local school districts to decide what would be taught and how it would be incorporated into current school curriculums.
Leno said the bill would take effect in January 2012, which would mean a shift in lesson standards by the beginning of the school year in August.
Kristen Peters, Bay City News