Politics

New law adds gay history to California curriculums

A rainbow flag raises above Castro, the gay and lesbian neighborhood in San Francisco.
A rainbow flag raises above Castro, the gay and lesbian neighborhood in San Francisco.
Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday making California the first state in the country to add lessons about gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public schools.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the landmark bill requiring public schools to include the contributions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in social studies curriculum. The Democratic-majority Legislature had passed the bill last week on a largely party-line vote.

"History should be honest," the governor said in a statement. "This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books."

The bill has drawn criticism from some churches and conservative groups that argue such instruction would expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable.

Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill had called it a well-intentioned but ill-conceived bill. Some raised concerns that it would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.

State Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco and the bill's author, hailed the bill signing as a step toward teaching tolerance. Supporters say the bill will teach students to be more accepting of gays and lesbians in light of the bullying that happens to gay students.

"Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans," Leno said in a statement.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

The new law, SB48, requires the California Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that cover the contributions and roles of sexual minorities, as soon as the 2013-2014 school year.

The legislation leaves it to local school boards to decide how to implement the requirement. It does not specify a grade level for the instruction to begin.

For students like Benji Delgadillo, the measure comes as a relief. Delgadillo’s an openly transgender 16-year-old senior at San Juan Hills High School in Orange County. She read a statement in a phone interview with KPCC.

“At my school, there’s still a lot of negative treatment of students like because my peers have only heard stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," she said. "Now, with students taught in a fair and accurate way about LGBT people and history, they will realize that being LGBT is not something that someone should be bullied or harassed for.”

Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, a conservative family group, said under the new law parents will have no choice but to take their children out of public school and homeschool them to avoid what he said was "immoral indoctrination." The new law applies only to public schools, not private schools or families who homeschool.

"Jerry Brown has trampled the parental rights of the overwhelming majority of California fathers and mothers who don't want their children to be sexually brainwashed at school," Thomasson said. "This new law will prohibit textbooks and teachers from telling children the facts that homosexuality is neither healthy nor biological."

The bill was supported by gay rights organizations including Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. Teacher groups also said the bill would help students prepare for a diverse and evolving society.

"There is no room for discrimination of any kind in our classrooms, our communities or our state," said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association.

This story includes information from the KPCC's Frank Stoltze.