By Senator Mark Leno
During the past year, we have been fortunate to witness some amazing achievements in LGBT history. Americaâ€™s men and women in the armed forces won the right to serve openly and proudly in the military. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying in California, is unconstitutional. And just four months ago, President Barack Obama announced that he believes all couples should have the freedom to marry.
These significant events are not just victories for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They are also important milestones in American and California history. But until recently, schools in our state had no requirement to include LGBT accomplishments in social sciences instruction or history textbooks.
Last year I introduced legislation that ends this selective exclusion of the LGBT community. Senate Bill 48, better known as the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act, ensures that instructional materials in our public schools include historical information about the LGBT movement and LGBT leaders. The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, was co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
For far too long, our history lessons have left out the contributions of many groups. Over time, we have updated our educational standards to be more factual and inclusive of the roles of women and members of other racial, ethnic and cultural groups. The FAIR Education Act adds people with disabilities and the LGBT community to this list and it also prevents schools from adopting learning materials that have a discriminatory or stereotypical bias based solely on a personâ€™s sexual orientation or disability.
In a classroom setting this means that high school students who now learn about African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and farmworker advocate Cesar Chavez will also discover Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.
History students will not only learn about the policies that President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated to help the U.S. through the Great Depression, but also that President Roosevelt spent decades in a wheelchair. They will learn that the Holocaust in Nazi Germany targeted not only millions of Jews, but also LGBT people and people with disabilities. They might also learn that Sally Ride, the first woman in space, just happened to have a loving relationship with another woman.
All students benefit when we provide them with an education that is factual and reflects the diversity of the human experience. When a history student learns about LGBT heroes and figures like Harvey Milk and Sally Ride, in addition to Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez, he or she better understands the differences among us. That, in turn, helps destroy negative stereotypes that lead to violence, bullying and suicide. These same students will also find positive role models in the many historical figures they discover, empowering them to embrace their uniqueness and overcome whatever unique challenges they may be facing.
Despite the positive outcomes we know the FAIR Education Act will have on California, the bill has faced several challenges. Anti-gay organizations have twice attempted to repeal SB 48 through the initiative process. Both attempts failed to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot box. In addition, state budget cuts and a moratorium on revising the stateâ€™s social studies standards and textbooks have delayed the full implementation of the FAIR Education Act, which became law on January 1. Still, many schools are incorporating LGBT history into the classroom using the resources they have available, and we know many more will continue to do so. Certainly, our students are depending on it.
Senator Mark Leno represents the Third Senate District of California, which includes portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties and all of Marin County. www.sen.ca.gov/Leno