Governor Jerry Brown today signed a landmark bill amending the state’s education code to require inclusion of historical contributions of gays and lesbians in textbooks and curricula. The bill was sponsored by local State Senator Mark Leno.

Read the full text of the bill here.

Brown issued this statement:

“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. It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Senator Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

And this excerpt from Leno’s statement:

“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 (D-San Francisco). “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.”

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.

Last week, I interviewed KQED’s education reporter, Ana Tintocalis, about what’s in the bill and what its significance is. Here’s part of that interview, from July 8, again:

Ana Tintocalis on what’s in the bill

What would this bill do?

This bill is SB 48, commonly known as the FAIR act. It would amend the state’s education code, stating that LGBT people should be added to the state’s list of underrepresented groups in history classes. At the same time it also spells out other guidelines for underrepresented groups. The bill says textbooks and instruction should specifically include contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans.

The LGBT component is the thing getting the most press. Is that because that is specifically called out in the bill or is it because it’s more controversial?

More of the emphasis is on LGBT historical contributions. The other part of the bill is basically spelling out, “let’s not refer to African Americans in history as blacks or Native Americans as Indians.”

California would be the first state in the country to allow public school kids to learn from curricula and textbooks that point out the contributions of gays and lesbians.

And it wouldn’t just be allowed, it would be mandated. Is that correct?

It’s mandated, but it’s a little tricky, because the bill says the state has to adopt textbooks and curricula that include LGBT contributions in our history, but it’s up to school districts if they want to use them and how much. So ultimately, school districts will get to decide how they go about using these teaching materials.

But the district officials I’ve spoken with say this would give them permission to talk about the topic. Even if they don’t necessarily use the textbook, they have permission to talk about the ongoing gay rights movement, about people like Harvey Milk or Walt Whitman, for example.

So currently, if a teacher does want to discuss LGBT topics in class, are they specifically disallowed or are they such hot-button issues that teachers don’t want to go there?

They’re such hot-button issues that people don’t want to go there. I think it’s really frowned upon; I think teachers feel they don’t have the authority to talk about these issues. And we’ve seen cases in school districts where a teacher gets in trouble for talking about someone like Harvey Milk. If this bill becomes law, it give educators that freedom to discuss these things in class.

On the bill’s supporters and opponents

So who are the bill’s main opponents at this point?

Christian conservative groups and Republican lawmakers. They say this is a blatant attempt to promote what they call a homosexual agenda and to legislate morality. And they’re saying they’re not going to back down even if the bill does become law. So you still may see cases and issues come up, maybe even more so if teachers feel they have a little more freedom to talk about this topic in class.

And this was Mark Leno’s bill, right?

Yes, and it was co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, both of which are based in San Francisco, so it very much has this Bay Area connection.

And what are the indications from Governor Brown as to whether he’ll sign it or not?

He hasn’t said whether he supports it. If he doesn’t veto it within 12 days, it automatically becomes law.

But even if it does become law, there’s a five-year moratorium placed on adopting and purchasing any new textbooks, due to budget issues. That moratorium is in place until about 2015. So you wouldn’t be seeing new adoption of textbooks for a number of years.

Explaining how teachers could implement the new curricula without new textbooks

What is the difference between textbooks and curricula?

Textbooks are the tool, and the standards are the lesson plans and how you go about teaching something. A lot of people use teaching and curriculum interchangeably. From the textbook you can develop lesson plans, and sometimes textbooks come with curricula that teachers can then use within the classroom or structure it in ways that they feel are best for students.

If the state does pass the bill but has no money to buy textbooks, teachers could still develop their own lesson plans that tie into what they want to get across in this particular area.

Governor Signs FAIR Education Act — LGBT History Bill 14 July,2011Jon Brooks

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor