California’s Governor Jerry Brown made history Thursday by signing legislation that, for the first time in the United States, mandates that LGBT contributions to society must be included in the state’s history and social studies lessons.
The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, authored by Senator Mark Leno, is designed to address the current exclusion of LGBT history from school textbooks. The FAIR Education Act amends California’s Education Code to include instruction on the contributions of LGBTs and also prohibits discriminatory instruction or discriminatory materials from being used by the State Board of Education.
The legislation was approved by the California Senate in a 23-14 vote on April 14 and then by the California Assembly in a 49-25 vote on July 6.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which aided the drafting of the bill, had this to say regarding Governor Brown’s signing the legislation into law:
“We salute Governor Brown for signing, Senator Mark Leno for sponsoring, and the California legislature for passing this historic bill that reverses decades of censorship and discrimination against LGBT people in public school classrooms. Finally, all California students will learn about the contributions and accomplishments of LGBT people throughout history and into the present. LGBT students will be able live openly and with pride, knowing that their state and their schools embrace them and recognize their worth. The Governor’s and legislature’s foresight will be repaid many times over when the next generation of California youth enter the world as healthier, more confident, and better-educated adults. This is the beginning of a new era of full inclusion and support for LGBT youth and their families in public schools, and I am proud that California is once again leading the way.”
Studies have shown that inclusion of LGBT people in instructional materials is linked to greater student safety and lower rates of bullying. In schools where the contributions of the LGBT community are included in educational instruction, bullying declined by over half and LGBT students were more likely to feel they have an opportunity to make positive contributions at school.
“Today marks a monumental victory for the LGBT civil rights movement as the contributions of diverse LGBT community will no longer be erased from history,” said Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia. “Thanks to the FAIR Education Act, California students, particularly LGBT youth, will find new hope and inspiration and experience a more welcoming learning environment that will embrace them.”
Palencia added, “For decades, LGBT leaders have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for all Californians. LGBT leaders were involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the farm workers’ movement, the women’s movement, have built health and human services institutions that now serve millions of Californians, and have contributed to the economic development of our state. We are truly grateful for the courageous leadership of Senator Leno, the LGBT Caucus, allied lawmakers, our members, and the entire LGBT community for making history and for promoting safety in our schools as students learn about our rich legacy.”
“I am awed and humbled to be part of this historic moment. Today, we’ve written the latest chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement — one that will now be presented fairly and accurately in California schools,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “By signing the FAIR Education Act and ending the exclusion of the LGBT community from instructional materials, Governor Brown has realized the hopes of youth who have been fighting for safe and inclusive schools, where all students learn about our history and gain respect for each other’s differences as a result. This is a part of the American story that we can be proud to know all students will learn.”
“Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans,” said Senator Leno “Denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives our young people an inaccurate and incomplete view of the world around them. I am pleased Governor Brown signed the FAIR Education Act and I thank him for recognizing that the LGBT community, its accomplishments and its ongoing efforts for first-class citizenship are important components of California’s history.”
“There is no room for discrimination of any kind in our classrooms, our communities or our state,” said Dean E. Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association. “We believe that curricula should address the common values of the society, promote respect for diversity and cooperation, and prepare students to compete in, and cope with a complex and rapidly evolving society. SB 48 does that by helping to ensure that curricular materials include the contributions of persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to the development of California and United States.”
The legislation, while receiving a great deal of public support, has been vehemently attacked by religious conservatives who say it is gay indoctrination and that openly gay Senator Mark Leno is trying to “queer” schools. The main issue opponents raise centers on the fact that California law does not allow parents to remove their children from selected lessons and therefore parents will not be able to prevent their children learning LGBT history when it comes up in the syllabus.
Advocates have said the legislation does nothing more than address the artificial exclusion of LGBTs from school lessons and that concerns of indoctrination are simply overblown anti-gay rhetoric.
It is hoped that the FAIR Education Act, which is expected to come into force around 2013, will help to alleviate the “otherness” surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and in doing so will combat anti-LGBT bullying, creating a better climate for all school children.