New law says California schools must highlight gays’ contributions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California has become the first state in the nation to require its public school social studies texts to specifically include the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The law also prohibits the state Board of Education from adopting instructional materials that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law July 14. The California Catholic Conference opposed the bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco.

“History should be honest. 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,” Brown said in a statement. “It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Senator Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

The California Catholic Conference said opposition to the bill was strong and it recorded its highest response rate on a piece of legislation.

“The governor made a huge mistake,” said William May, chairman of the California group Catholics for the Common Good, who said the organization is reviewing how it will respond. “Politicians should not be co-opting school curricula and writing textbooks to push an ideological agenda whether it be conservative or liberal,” he said.

The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act passed the Assembly July 5 and the state Senate in April.

California already requires that public school students be taught from texts that “accurately portray the role and contribution of culturally and racially diverse groups including Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, and European-Americans in the development of California and the United States.”

The new legislation revises this list to also include Pacific Islanders; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans; persons with disabilities; and members of other ethnic and cultural groups.

Los Angles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said the bill “amounts to the government rewriting history books based on pressure-group politics.” In a July 8 column in The Tidings, the archdiocesan newspaper, he also described the bill as “another example of the government interfering with parents’ rights to be their children’s primary educators.”

A legislative alert sent by the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, had urged Catholics to tell their state legislators to vote against the bill.

“Professional educators and historians, working with teachers, parents and school boards, should design social studies curriculums,” the alert said, noting that “politicians, subject to the winds of political correctness, should not because they often respond with more alacrity to the interest groups than to their constituents whose children attend California’s schools.”

Ned Dolejsi, the conference’s executive director, called the legislation “unnecessary and overly intrusive” in testimony before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee this spring.

The conference also sent a letter to the committee asking members to “oppose this mandate on the already overworked schoolteachers in our state who perform the invaluable task of molding the next generation and the already overtaxed budgets of our public schools.”

Leno, who introduced the bill last December, said in a news release that most textbooks don’t include historical information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement, which he said “has great significance to both California and U.S. history.”

He said the nation’s “collective silence on this issue perpetuates negative stereotypes” and leads to increased bullying of young people.

In a June 16 letter to the head of the state Assembly’s Education Committee, May of Catholics for the Common Good said that problems around bullying are not going to be solved by “cosmetically sexualizing social studies” in the state’s public schools.

He said unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians “is an important fact that must be taught and not forgotten, but this bill will not affect that.” He also said the bill’s language was “so vague, and subject to such broad interpretation, that it can only lead to confusion, conflict and the potential for complaints and litigation.”

Contributing to this report was Valerie Schmalz in San Francisco.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.