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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 27
California Assembly passes landmark LGBT education bill
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California Assembly passes landmark LGBT education bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

California's state Assembly passed a landmark LGBT education bill on July 5.

The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act adds sexual orientation and gender identity to California's existing laws barring discrimination in school activities and instruction materials, and requires state schools to include LGBT history in their curriculum.

The vote was 49-25.

California's Senate passed the measure in April, and it now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. He is expected to sign the bill, which he supported.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Mark Leno, of San Francisco.

'We are selectively censoring history when we exclude LGBT Americans, or any other group of people, from our textbooks and instructional materials,' Leno said.

'We can't tell our youth that it's OK to be yourself and expect them to treat their peers with dignity and respect when we deliberately deny them accurate information about the historical contributions of Americans who happened to be LGBT.'

A 16-year-old student interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle said that inclusion of LGBT history in her school curriculum would help her to feel part of national life.

'I would feel that then I was included in the history of America, that I wasn't being blocked out on purpose,' she said.

The legislation was supported by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which works to promote safe schools for LGBT youth, and Equality California, the state's leading LGBT organization. Both groups celebrated the victory.

'This is a victory not only for the LGBT youth in California who have been fighting to be heard in Sacramento and represented in their history classes, but also for all California youth who deserve to learn a fair and accurate account of California and US history,' said Carolyn Laub, executive director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

'By passing the FAIR Education Act, 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 struggle of the multicultural and multiethnic LGBT community in California is one of the greatest stories yet to be told,' said Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia.

'The FAIR Education Act will ensure that public schools acknowledge the heroism of individuals and communities who in spite of countless barriers continuously overcome adversity.'

The measure was opposed - predictably - by Concerned Women for America, the California Family Council, and a coalition of Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant groups.

Responding to critics who accused him of using California students to promote his own political agenda, Leno said his agenda was inclusive and respectful.

'This is about a political agenda - a political agenda that promotes respect, dignity, and validation for human life,' he said. 'An agenda that promotes loving thy neighbor as thyself. That's what this agenda is about.'

Research cited by the bill's supporters indicates that students who learn about LGBT people find their school environments more accepting of LGBT youth.

Students are also more likely to report that their LGBT peers are treated fairly at school - and that other types of peer-to-peer disrespect also decline - when LGBT people and issues are included in instructional materials.

The California Assembly's action came a mere six weeks after the Tennessee Senate passed the notorious 'Don't say Gay' bill, forbidding discussion of sexual orientation in grammar schools and middle schools.

Tennessee's House of Representatives did not take up the measure before it adjourned for the year, but it could be brought back for a vote when the legislative session resumes in 2012.

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