Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Alex Distefano

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Posted September 15, 2011 in News

With the fate of California’s Proposition 8—which effectively banned same-sex

marriage in the Golden State—still up in the air and awaiting an appeal hearing (a case that might ultimately end up being heard in the U.S. Supreme Court), members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) communities are still celebrating a victory.

This time, the win is in the realm of education with SB 48.

The law, also known as the Fair Accurate Inclusive Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and will provide guidelines to ensure that all K-12 public schools in the state incorporate an accurate portrayal of the LGBT civil rights movement in history and social studies instruction. The law also includes a list of other minority groups—such as people with disabilities—who are often left out of accounts of history, politics and social studies.

Not surprising—and much like what happened with Prop. 8—this new piece of legislation has ended up steeped in backlash and fierce opposition from religious organizations, right-wing conservatives and anti-gay groups that fear the law will force a “homosexual agenda” down the throats of public school children.

But, according to Jill Marcellus, communications coordinator for the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the FAIR Education Act is nothing new.

“This bill simply expands existing law, which already requires schools to include the contributions of both men and women, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and many others,” she tells the Weekly. “The FAIR Education Act ensures that, starting January 1, 2012 all of California’s students will learn a factual, age-appropriate, and honest account of history that does not censor or discriminate.”

Proponents of the Act claim that groups (“anti-equality activists”) opposed to the new law are spreading lies, hatred and intolerance based on their political, moral and religious world views. A battle was expected, Marcellus says, but LGBT activists remain optimists over the bill’s signing.

“These [anti-equality] activists have tried to erase LGBT people from history,” she says. “When we deny the role that people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have played in the formation of our country and our state, we distort history and signal to students that those groups should be invisible or ashamed.”

Recently, to assist educators and students across the state, the state Department of Education released a FAQ-style set of guidelines to help implement the new law. According to Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, administrators, teachers—and school board members in some cases—have been eager to receive guidance from the state, to help implement the new law.

“This FAQ should put to rest the lies and misinformation spread by anti-equality extremists working to overturn the FAIR Education Act,” says Roland Palencia, executive director of Equality California. “This Act requires schools to integrate factual, age-appropriate information about the history, current events and social movements of LGBT people, people with disabilities and people of color into existing social studies lessons,” he says. “Everything else is hysterical and unnecessary noise.”

But, this isn’t stopping those who are vehemently against the law. Many Christians, Republicans and others who were in support of Prop. 8, are now attempting to put the FAIR Act to a referendum, which could require 504,760 registered voters to sign a petition by an Oct. 12 deadline so that the law can be put up for a public vote, according to a recent report by OC Weekly’s news blog. Many of these groups are working hard against what they perceive as a “homosexual indoctrination” of students in state public schools.

Aside from the goals of tolerance and anti-discrimination, Marcellus says that the new law will also add an element of safety to public schools.

“We need safe and inclusive schools that accurately present the history of all Americans,” she says. “Studies have shown that inclusion of LGBT people in instructional materials is linked to greater student safety and lower rates of bullying.” For further information on the FAIR Education Act, go to www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/senatebill48faq.asp.


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