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California bill seeks to add gay history, contributions to school lessons

Published: Friday, April 15 2011 9:51 a.m. MDT

California is poised to become the first state to mandate that gay history be part of its school curriculum, if a bill passed 23-14 by its Senate on Thursday wins full state Assembly approval and the governor's signature.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would add gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to the list of social and ethic groups in the social studies curriculum, according to an Associated Press article by Lisa Leff. It also adds disabled people to the school lessons, which by mandate already include the contributions of women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor.

Wrote Leff, "Supporters say the move is needed to counter anti-gay stereotypes and beliefs that make children in those groups vulnerable to bullying and suicide.

"Opponents counter that such instruction would further burden an already crowded curriculum and expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable."

The bill leaves it to the districts how and in which grades the subject is taught. Class materials that reflect negatively on gay, bisexual and transgender people would not be allowed starting in the 2013-14 school year.

In a December preview of the legislation, Rick Boone of Fox40 News said that Senate Bill 48, known as the FAIR Education Act, "would require classroom text books to be re-written with historical details about the gay movement in America and California. The books would also highlight gay people who have played a significant role in our country's history."

FAIR is an acronym for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful, according to a fact sheet by the sponsors that looks at the bill's purpose, background, existing California law and research on LGBT topics.

"Research 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 declines — when LGBT people and issues are included in instructional materials," a news release by Leno's office said in announcing Senate approval of the measure.

Leno's California Assembly webpage notes that besides including the role and contributions of LGBT Americans in educational materials, the FAIR Education Act adds sexual orientation to the state's existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials. The bill is co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

Among the staunchest opponents of the measure are the Protect Kids Foundation and SaveCalifornia.com, the Campaign for Children and Families, which include discussion of the bill on their websites.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com

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