Foes of New Calif. Law on Teaching Gay History Seek Repeal

By Erik W. Robelen — July 26, 2011 2 min read
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The political battle isn’t over, it seems, on a California measure that requires public schools to teach about gay history. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law earlier this month, but opponents now are starting to gather signatures on a ballot measure that would repeal the legislation.

Just today, a collection of organizations reportedly received approval from the state attorney general’s office to proceed with the effort. The critics of the new law have about 90 days to collect more than 500,000 signatures to qualify the measure for inclusion on the November ballot, according to a blog post from the Sacramento Bee newspaper.

“Governor Brown refused to listen to the calls of pro-family voters asking him to veto SB 48,” Karen England, the executive director of Capitol Resources Family Impact, an arm of the Capitol Resources Institute, said in an announcement. “The bill costs too much and it goes too far. He ignored the majority in our state who object to the implementation of this controversial, objectionable, and poor public policy.”

The Capitol Resources Institute, based in Sacramento, describes itself as a “watchdog for family values.” The opponents have a website called Stop SB 48.

But supporters of the new legislation were quick to counter the ballot campaign.

“California has a long legacy of leading the nation on issues of inclusion and justice, and the FAIR Education Act represents the next step in that tradition,” said Roland Palencia, the executive director of Equality California, a gay-rights advocacy group, in a press release. “This attack on the FAIR Education Act isn’t just an attempt to censor the contributions of LGBT people ... from the history books; it’s also an attempt by our opponents to revive lies based on prejudice about LGBT people being dangerous to children.”

The new law adds lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students—as well as persons with disabilities—to the list of groups whose roles and contributions must be “accurately portrayed” in social-science instruction and instructional materials. In addition, it prohibits the state or school districts from adopting textbooks or other instructional materials that “reflect adversely” on a person’s sexual orientation.

The legislation was approved on a strictly party-line vote in the California Senate and Assembly, with all Republicans opposed. Gov. Brown, a Democrat, signed it July 14.

State schools chief TomTorlakson issued a statement the same day praising the governor’s decision to sign the law, even as he cautioned that it might be a while before curricular materials are revised to reflect it.

“Our history is more complete when we recognize the contributions of people from all backgrounds and walks of life,” he said. “As the result of ongoing budget reductions, the state process for the development and review of K-8 instructional materials is currently dormant, but the California Department of Education looks forward to curriculum that reflects the diversity of our state.”

For more background, check out this EdWeek story from April.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.