Why Gay history is American history
 

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posted Friday, April 22, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 16

Why Gay history is American history
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Forty-five years ago, a debate was raging in California.

The state Board of Education had adopted a new junior high school history textbook with inclusive treatment of the civil rights movement.

California conservatives were outraged. They warned of the disastrous effects this would have on the youth. They screamed and they yelled, but luckily for us all, they were unsuccessful.

Although 1966 was many years ago and we can easily look back and wonder, 'What were they thinking?' a similar debate is now raging: Gay rights advocates say the same arguments are being used to defeat a bill that would make the state the first in the nation to require the teaching of so-called 'Gay history' in public schools.

The California Senate approved the landmark measure last week, but it needs to clear the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown's desk to become law.

The debate about what children should learn in public schools is not a new one. However - with all due respect to other cultures, of course - we refer to our country's history lessons as 'American history.'

American history is Gay history - it's that simple. Including profiles of important countrymen who just so happen to be Gay or Lesbian should be a non-issue in 2011. Within our own community, we know that the 1969 Stonewall uprising was the spark that ignited the flame of the modern Gay rights movement. And now, if this bill passes, so will thousands of straight boys and girls. No harm done; history shows us this with the inclusion of the civil rights movement, women's rights movement, and so on.

'It's fine to imagine we would have these expert educators deciding what history education should look like, but that's counter-historical in and of itself,' New York University history and education professor Jonathan Zimmerman told the Associated Press. 'It's citizens' groups who want to see themselves in the curriculum and see the curriculum as a rich, symbolic battlefield, which it is.' Zimmerman teaches a course in how culture wars play at schools.

The California legislation would add LGBT people to the extensive list of social and ethnic groups that schools must include in social studies lessons. It would also require (starting with the 2013-2014 school year) the California Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that cover the contributions and roles of sexual minorities.

In addition, the measure would prohibit the adoption of any materials that 'reflect adversely' on Gays or particular religions. School districts would have flexibility in deciding what to include in the lessons and at what grades students would receive them.

So what's the big deal? Why the pushback? California already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, and American Indians, and supporters argue that requiring instruction about Gays in history would close an observable gap in the state's existing social studies curriculum and curb anti-Gay stereotypes.

Conservatives say that LGBT history would expose students to a subject that many parents might find disagreeable. And of course, the ultra-conservative nut jobs entered the tussle by declaring that the new history lessons would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.

Is anyone else as tired as I am of the ancient and ridiculous 'Those Gays are after our kids!' argument? The problem is that argument actually works in California.

During the successful campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California, Gay marriage opponents' most effective message was warning that schoolchildren would be taught about same-sex couples if they could marry, and that was enough to turn the tide.

Still, the lead sponsor of the bill, openly Gay Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, maintains that adding LGBT history into mainstream American history in public schools is the right thing to do.

'We are conspicuous in our absence. This corrects that,' Sen. Mark Leno told the Associated Press. 'Should we delete the inclusion of all the groups that are currently in the statute? Why is that OK, but not LGBT? That is discriminatory.'



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