A landmark provision solidified last week will see gay history
integrated into public schools by 2013
– a development some Gilroyans view as a milestone, while at
least one local pastor openly disagrees with the change.
A landmark provision solidified last week will see gay history integrated into public schools by 2013 – a development some Gilroyans view as a milestone, while at least one local pastor openly disagrees with the change.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 48 on July 14, making California the first U.S. state to mandate that social science curriculums include historically significant contributions made by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning Americans.
According to an office spokesman, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who represents the 28th District that includes Gilroy, voted in favor of the bill, which was passed by the state Assembly July 5 on a 50-26 vote.
For Rachel Smith, a recent graduate of Gilroy High School who struggled with being honest about her bisexuality until the end of her senior year, the legislation is a step in the right direction.
“It is important that students know that they are not alone. Without LGBT in history, students are bound to think that if they feel gay, they must be strange,” she said. “Students will, of course, feel alienated from their peers without a curriculum that is honest and not afraid to include LGBT history and social studies as well.”
Malcolm MacPhail, City of Gilroy volunteer chaplain and senior pastor of New Hope Community Church, offers a differing viewpoint.
While he agrees no one should be denied historical recognition based on sexual orientation, he views SB 48 as elevating a person’s sexual identity over the actual societal contribution.
“There’s just a strong, homosexual worldview being promoted here,” said MacPhail, who feels the bill raises new possibilities of discrimination. “Do we promote other worldviews just as strongly? Why can’t we mandate teachers teach intelligent design versus evolution? Or the Big Bang Theory?”
As for specifics on implementing the updated curriculums, in addition to determining which grades the new material will be incorporated into, the state will come up with a general framework. Local school boards, however, will be responsible for deciding how it gets carried out in terms of lesson plans, according to Sen. Mark Leno, the bill’s introducer who represents San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma.
Leno added SB 48 applies to kindergarten through 12th grade education, but there is “flexibility on both ends” as each district will determine what is age appropriate for each grade level.
“We already have sex education. This is not it,” he explained, addressing what he recognizes to be a common misunderstanding surrounding the bill.
He clarified SB 48 isn’t a novelty concept. Rather, it’s an amendment to an existing law that already ensures “inclusive education” for underrepresented groups in curriculums and school instructional material.
The statute identifies a list, or, “categories of persons” that cannot be discriminated against – and must be included in – social sciences studies. According to SB 48, this existing statute already prohibits public schools from sponsoring activities and adopting instructional materials that discriminate based on “race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin or ancestry.”
Leno explained SB 48 has revised this “categories of persons” to “ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality and sexual orientation.”
When asked if parents could choose to have their children forego the newer social science curriculums, Leno replied there is no opt-out provision for any of the other groups in the education code, “nor is there for this.”
“We have kindergarten students arriving at school with their two mommies, or with their two daddies,” he said. “That fact of life is already a part of their environment.”
John Perales, principal of Christopher High School, says the amendment “levels the playing field” for people who have made contributions to society. Such information shouldn’t be shuffled aside or censored based on sexual orientation, he said.
In terms of infusing social science curriculums with new material, Perales added it’s premature to speculate exactly how the district will go about adhering to the bill – although he does anticipate some level of reaction from parents as CHS notifies them of impending changes.
GHS art teacher Annie Tobin offers another outlook, saying students who see themselves in a curriculum are more likely to learn, get invested and stay attached.
Had this been the case with her own high school experience, Tobin – a member of the LGBTQ community – said she wouldn’t have felt like an outsider. This concept, she added, isn’t just for gay and lesbian students. Many have family members and close relatives that will also be reflected in the new curriculum, Tobin pointed out.
“In not speaking about a particular group, it’s almost the same as almost dissing them,” said Tobin. “You’re saying they’re not even important enough to talk about.”
Tobin turned the tables. For example, if a student didn’t necessarily want to study Christianity – but wanted to study art history. “If I were to leave that out, there would be a huge gap. I don’t see any difference in leaving out gay and lesbian history.”
Contemplating as to which grade level the new materials would be introduced in, MacPhail expressed concern for exposing younger, impressionable children to a new model of sexuality “based on a very small minority of the population’s choices.”
The pastor and longtime Gilroyan underlined his opposition to SB 48, saying he expects “a reaction once it hits the mainstream of our community.”
He also highlighted his church’s platform of proactively addressing cultural changes, as “over and above everything, we are always to walk in love towards other people.”
Several calls placed to local churches for comment were not returned.
Echoing Leno’s observation of a common misconception surrounding the legislation, Tobin said, “We’re not teaching about sex. I think that’s what people are so afraid of. That doesn’t come into play.”
Coining high school as “a breeding ground for silly insecurities,” Smith asserts it is more likely the nation will be led by “strong, self-motivated, self-understanding adults” once youth begin to accept themselves for who they are at a younger age.
“I have faith that this legislation will help foster a more LGBT-friendly environment for kids in high school,” she said. “Hopefully, this will be the start of some even more progressive educational changes in California.”