After suffering setbacks in the fight to legalize gay marriage, gay rights activists in California are moving closer to victory in the classroom, which, under pending legislation, would become "gender sensitive" zones, mandating history lessons about gays and transgender Americans.
The Fair Education Act passed out of the State Senate and is now headed to the State Assembly. Also known as SB 48, the bill was authored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
"It will require that roles and contributions of LGBT Americans, not unlike African-Americans, Mexican Americans, women, and other traditionally overlooked groups, be included in school curriculum."
If the measure passes, the state would draw up guidelines for the districts, and then educators would get to decide who deserves inclusion.
Supporters suggest slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk would be an appropriate choice. Leno contends Milk's fight for civil rights is as worthy of class study as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s. He adds this kind of "inclusive curriculum" will help protect students who may look, or act, differently.
But critics don't buy the anti-bullying argument, and say SB 48 hijacks history class to promote a gay agenda.
"In the past, history taught about what people did, what they accomplished," says Brad Dacus, head of the Pacific Justice Institute. "It didn't focus on their sexuality and what they did in the bedroom. Yet that is what this legislation will impose on every public school in the state of California dealing with heterosexuality, homosexual role models, transgender role models, all the way down to the kindergarten level."
Dacus adds, "It's California tax dollars from parents who are paying for this kind of indoctrination that's being put into public schools. That demeans them, their family, and their relationships."
Leno says it's the same criticism voiced years ago when schools embraced ethnic and women's studies.
"We should not be afraid to teach our children of the broad diversity of human experience," he says. "It's not going away, it's always been with us. We have different kinds of people, who are, under law, to be treated equally. Why would we not want to teach our children this?"
He says inclusive education is as important as the 3R's. "This all goes together."
But critics worry parents who object to this curriculum will be labeled intolerant, and that kids will start thinking about sexuality and gender identity at a very young age.
Despite those concerns, Leno's bill is widely expected to become law, which would make California the first state to require gay history be taught in public schools.