In a sharply-divided 49-25 vote on Tuesday, the California State Assembly passed SB 48, a bill that would require textbooks used in state public schools to include historical contributions by gay men, lesbians and transgendered individuals. But questions about the bill’s implementation, and whether shifting pedagogy can actually change students’ opinions, remain.
If signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure would also require the creation of other teaching materials about sexual orientation, while prohibiting the use of those that “reflect adversely” on gays and lesbians.
Originally introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to the senate in April, SB 48 aims to reduce the harassment of gay children in school, and to include the accomplishments of notable LGBT activists in local social science curricula.
“We are literally censoring an important chapter in history,” Leno told Patt Morrison. Noting the academic inclusion of other minorities’ historical struggles and accomplishments, Leno emphasized the importance of including this new civil rights issue.
“We appropriately teach our students that there was an African American man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, who fought for everyone’s civil rights and was assassinated for his efforts. There was a gay American man by the name of Harvey Milk, who fought for everyone’s civil rights, and was assassinated for his efforts,” said Leno. “We currently teach one, but not the other."
Some gay rights supporters welcomed the bill’s provisions, saying it's high time that the LGBT community received its place in history textbooks, but others were skeptical of the bill’s approach.
Many conservatives and religious leaders in particular have criticized the bill’s passage and are warning of its potential to undermine moral values. David, a listener from Koreatown said he thinks that determining local schools’ inclusion of gay rights history in their curricula should not be a state priority.
“I support gay rights but I don’t think you can dictate from a state level, from Sacramento, what’s to be taught on the local school board level,” he said.
In speaking with Patt about his opposition to SB 48, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly voiced concerns about the bill’s requirement that LGBT history be portrayed positively.
“I like the idea of freedom,” he said. “I think if you look at it from that point of view, that’s a very different thing than saying to the entire state that 'You must teach these things, and here’s how you will teach them, and how you will present them. It will be in a positive light.'”
“I don’t think we should be pushing a specific agenda,” Donnelly added, echoing conservative worries that SB 48 was formulated to promote a LGBT priorities.
Brown has not yet announced his stance on SB 48, but if he doesn’t sign the bill within 12 days, it will become law automatically. Even so, California’s fiscal troubles may mean that the altered textbooks may not be produced until 2015.
Mark Leno, D-3rd District (San Francisco); author of SB-48 and chair of the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee
Tim Donnelly, R-59th District (San Bernardino, San Dimas); vice chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee