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California schools flummoxed about how to add lessons on LGBT Americans

Sunday, October 16, 2011
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LOS ANGELES — Educators across the state of California are scrambling to incorporate into their curriculum materials that present the significant contributions of LGBT Americans as required by a new law.

Known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, the law requires the state’s public schools to include the historical contributions of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans in history lessons and classroom textbooks.

The landmark legislation, the first of its kind in the nation, was introduced by State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and signed into law in July by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law is scheduled to take effect in January, which school officials point out, doesn’t leave them or educators in classrooms much time to figure out ‘how, what, and who’ in the need to implement the law’s provisions.

The law has sparked confusion about what, exactly, is supposed to be taught. Will fourth-graders learn that some of the Gold Rush miners were gay and helped build San Francisco? Will students be taught about the “two-spirited people” tradition among some Native Americans, as one gay historian mused?

School districts will have little help in navigating this sensitive and controversial change, which has already prompted some parents to pull their children out of public schools.

“I’m not sure how we plug it into the curriculum at the grade school level, if at all,” said Paul Boneberg, executive director at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.

Judy Chiasson, Coordinator for Human Relations, Diversity and Equity for the L.A. Unified School System, the state’s largest, said LGBT topics are controversial because people conflate them with sex ā€” and, for religious conservatives, sin.

“People sexualize homosexuality and romanticize heterosexuality,” she said.

Chiasson points out that the L.A. School System had debuted the nation’s first chapter in a high school health textbook on LGBT issues covering sexual orientation and gender identity, struggles over them and anti-LGBT bias in 2005.

But, she notes that one chapter that deals with misconceptions about LGBTQ people states that “sexual orientation is not a choice ā€” a statement many religious conservatives disagree with.”

The other challenge that faces the state’s educators, according to the Times is the California Legislature has suspended all adoption of instructional material through eighth grade until 2015 to save money.

Any new textbook with LGBT content is not likely to land in schools until at least 2019 because that process usually takes a minimum of four years, according to a state Education Department spokeswoman.

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