The California State Senate approved a controversial bill on Thursday requiring public school material to include "age appropriate" lessons on the historical contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The measure was based, in part, on the belief that presenting positive role models could help ease negative feelings and battle high suicide rates among gay and lesbian students.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the measure — the first of its kind in the nation — also prohibits teaching or textbooks that reflect adversely on people because of their sexual orientation. Opponents said the bill goes too far and is unnecessary because schools can already offer voluntary instruction about gays.
"All we're saying is let us also be reflected in history," said the bill's author, Democratic State Senator Sheila Kuehl, who was the first openly lesbian lawmaker in the state legislature. Kuehl and the bill's supporters said that current textbooks are vague on the contributions of gays and lesbians in the same way they were once silent about those of African-Americans and other minority groups.
"Even though we passed an anti-harassment bill seven years ago, it's still pretty obvious that there's a hostile environment for kids who are gay or lesbian — or even thought to be gay or lesbian," Kuehl said, according to the Los Angeles Times "Part of that stems from the fact that nobody reads about any positive examples."
The move is significant because California, a large part of the national textbook market, often sets trends on which texts are used.
The bill was sent to the full Assembly after passing in the Senate on a 22-15 vote, with all 14 Republicans and one Democrat opposed. Given the heavy Democratic majority in the Assembly, the legislation has a good chance of making it to the desk of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to the Chronicle.
Schwarzenegger has not said yet whether he'll sign the bill, but given his track record — he supports domestic partnerships but vetoed a same-sex marriage bill last year (see "Schwarzenegger Terminates California Same-Sex Marriage Bill") — and declining poll numbers, he is not likely to sign it as he faces a tough re-election bid this fall, the Chronicle reported. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers said the measure goes beyond eliminating perceived bias against gays into actively promoting being gay.
"If you're a black American, you can't help it. You are born that way," said Republican Senator Bill Morrow. "There is not one scintilla of credible scientific evidence that homosexuality is biological in origin. That is a myth. It is behavioral." Morrow said he believes the bill is dangerous because it puts sexual orientation — which he categorized as a "cultural or behavioral lifestyle" — in league with race and sex, which are biological. According to the Times, Morrow also objected to textbooks pointing out historical figures' sexual orientations, because "their contribution to history has nothing to do with their sexual proclivities."
California already has laws prohibiting the school board from using textbooks with material that portrays people negatively based on their race, sex, handicap, color or ancestry.
Even if Schwarzenegger does sign the bill, changes won't come soon. California adopts new standards in history, math, science and English for kindergarten through 8th grade every six years, and history standards were just revised this year.