Gearing Up for Another Fight: Keeping LGBT History in Public Schools

The anti-equality folks behind the Stop SB 48 campaign suffered a recent disappointment a few weeks ago. Their ballot referendum to repeal SB 48 -- the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful) Education Law -- failed to qualify because they did not gather enough signatures.

But on Thursday, Nov. 17, several homophobic organizations requested title and summary from California Attorney General Kamala Harris for a November 2012 ballot initiative to repeal the FAIR Education Act.

It's on -- again. And really, what a shame. Think about all the money that will get wasted on something so inane.

The new law simply mandates that public schools in California include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in age-appropriate social studies classes. It's no different from how, over the years, we've come to include the contributions of Mexican Americans, women, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, European Americans and members of other ethnic and cultural groups.

The law goes into effect January 2012, and public schools in California are gearing up to become the first in the nation to do the right thing with regard to inclusivity of LGBT history in lesson plans.

Thanks to this new law, students will now have the opportunity to learn a more accurate, inclusive version of history in an age-appropriate manner, one that might include the fact that, for example, the gay rights movement was sparked globally during the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. This was when gay and lesbians decided to finally fight back against discriminatory, government-sponsored raids and unfair treatment that had spanned decades.

Will learning this make kids gay? Not at all, but as you might suspect, a number of conservatives in our state are collectively wringing their hands, frantic with worry. Their worst fears are about to be realized.

Homosexuality will now be taught in public schools, starting with little kindergartners as young as 5 years old.

This sounds crazy, but the thing is they really believe this. They really believe this law is part of a larger gay conspiracy and that it's designed to make kids gay and join our team. I know because I got to witness them talking about it firsthand the other night at Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif.

I drove an hour and a half to hear Karen England, Stop SB 48's main proponent, discuss their failed campaign and what their next steps are in stopping "the homosexual agenda." England is the executive director of a "pro-family" organization called the Capitol Resource Institute. As England put it that night, it's one thing to live with same-sex marriage. After all, even some hardcore conservatives might say with resignation, "Well, that's in their home. Live and let live."

"But now you're talking about bringing it into our schools; you're messing with our kids," England continued indignantly. "Kids need to learn their ABCs, not about transgendered people."

There were about 40 people at the meeting. The first question came from a gentleman who pointedly asked, "How do we get rid of Mark Leno?" The way he said it, I wasn't sure if he meant that in the literal or legislative sense. Leno is the out Democratic Senator from San Francisco who introduced the bill.

A mother expressed concern over what her two school-age children will be taught at school starting next year. That sparked a conversation over the merits of pulling kids out of school for days at a time in an effort to a) deny the school district the money they would have received for that child during those days, and b) prove a point and show school officials that parents who disagree with the law can't be bullied.

Another woman identified herself as a school employee. She works in her school's print shop and said she had a conversation with the assistant principal about the new law in recent weeks.

"I won't print that stuff for the children," she said she'd informed the administrator, referring to LGBT-related materials that might end up coming her way. "I will walk," she'd told him. The administrator had tried to dismiss her concerns, but she made it pretty clear that she would rather quit her job than allow gay people to be humanized.

"I leave it in the Lord's hands," she told us, shaking her head.

An elderly man said his worse fears were medically motivated. "The gay community has a lot of health issues that straight people don't have." What he said made me think back to leper colonies: is that what he wants for gays, to quarantine us so that we can't spread disease?

Now, we're about to embark on Round Two of this craziness. Last month, they fell short of the necessary 504,760 signatures needed for it to qualify. They claim that they received 497,404 signatures. What we should consider is that this time, they will be ever more determined to make this one stick. As England summed up for her supporters, "We got this many signatures in 70 days; 150 days will be easy."

For months, the Courage Campaign worked to defend the FAIR Education Act as part of a broad coalition that included people of faith, labor organizations, LGBT groups, disability rights advocates, racial justice organizations and many more who care about equality. We will continue to fight. After all, this is no time for the LGBT movement to rest. Our opponents raised $100,000 for this campaign, and their highest donation came from the National Organization for Marriage, in the form of a $4,000 check. That means that lots of people contributed a few dollars here and there to help them out.

During England's pep talk, she mentioned how the churches of California rose up in this effort. These are churches that had never before been active in a political campaign until now. Calvary Chapel alone added 12 new phone lines just for volunteers to reach out and rally other churches around the state to get involved. She spoke of the tireless passion people demonstrated in ways big and small, like one woman in downtown Sacramento, pushing a baby stroller, with three additional kids in tow, who went into their office and told them she was willing to "go out into the streets" to get signatures. All this, England said, "to protect her family."

Did we see that same kind of passion from the LGBT community in trying to stop this ballot initiative? Not really, but we need to, because contrary to what the other side is trying to do, we're looking out for all students in California.

For updates on what's happening with the FAIR Education Act, check out our blog here.