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California schools flummoxed about how to add lessons on LGBT Americans

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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 — 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 — 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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18 more reader comments:

  1. Next time a pro-active approach would be advised . I have no pity. warning light was on for QUITE a long time. Free programs are available. Just DO IT.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:34pm
  2. I don’t see what is so difficult. LGBT people have contributed alot to American history and culture!

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:37pm
  3. …flummox?

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:37pm
  4. ^I’m not trying to be mean or say anything bad, but I think it jsut comes down to, what CAN be taught to certain grades and to what degree. Like with health class, you won’t see fourth grades talking open about sex and the details of it. And they want to make sure that they have everyone who was significant and important. And they have a limited amout of time (three months) so to get whole lessons together in that time, while teaching schools, is porbably very difficult. Again, i’m not trying to be mean or anything, I’m just saying. :)

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:39pm
  5. You can use Cole Porter. Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein, and many others as positive role models. What’s the problem?

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:44pm
  6. Just include gay rights in the civil rights movement, geez!

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:47pm
  7. Well, walking the walk is much more complicated than talking the talk. I wonder how many straight teachers will humble themselvbes to actually ask an LGBT person for advice ;-{)}

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:48pm
  8. reuben, i was talk about the nitty gritty of sex in the 3rd grade. my parents handed me life cycle books & said “read up.” when in was 8. i say if kids are old enough to hear about the birds & the bees theyre old enough to handle this.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:50pm
  9. How about that Leonardo da Vinci, was accused of being gay and would have had his nose cut off, or that William Shakespeare wrote his love sonnets for a man. The information about Native Americans having a valued place in their culture for gays is great, but how about also the Greeks believing the love of two men was the purest love.

    As for what you teach children it isn’t about sex, but the social issues. To my sister’s kids before they hit puberty my being gay just meant they went to a big party every year and saw lots of rainbows. The first Drag queens were explained by saying they were adults who got picked on for playing dress up, and this was a place they could do it and be appreciated for it. I think learning about the Stone Wall Riets in the 5th grade is good, just leave out the back room until high school.

    When talking about the burning times actually bring up that gays were burned too. Or when the holocaust it brought up actually bring up the other 46% and tell them among them were gays.

    I can think of hundreds of things which would be beneficial for children to know and understand. Maybe show the evolution of people’s thinking towards gays, and where it comes from. bring up our fallen advocates and the fight the went though.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:55pm
  10. Actually, the sex ed part is the easy part. UCSF has put together materials and speakers that are quite effective. The challenge is speaking of gay people *not* entirely as sexual beings. For people who accept that there is more to gay than sex, this is no problem. For those who cannot separate the ife achievements of individuals from what they do in bed, this will be more of a challenge.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:06pm
  11. Amazing how we can teach about the heterosexual community without teaching about sex in kindergarten, but when you include LGBT history and heroes in the lessons suddenly people are worried about a condom and a banana in a first grade room. An L.A. Times article today chronicles a school already doing this and their teachers have creatively worked the concepts into their curriculum without losing tons of time. Ashe is right….covering the gay rights movement is a good start. How about opening up biography and book report lists a bit to the diversity? Sounds doable. Gah, I am just picturing the outrage in the pro- Prop-8 community in this town.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:17pm
  12. It needs to be treated as any other “speacial” group has been in the past. Just add it in, no one should care and our kids will learn tolerance at the same time.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:44pm
  13. @SARA OMG! I totally agree like they’re talking about teaching LGBT HISTORY here NOT ABOUT THE SEX!! when people think about LGBT they right away go to the sex or the act! People need to understand that it’s not necessarily about the sex it’s about LOVE & being who you are! I knew I was gay waaaaay before I had any sexual relation with a girl<3

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 6:03pm
  14. Shock is a common effect when public deems something to be law that touches on a taboo subject. If someone is not able to overcome the shock then it is the fault of that person, not the fault of the law. If the majority voted it in, then why does the minority able to overcome it? Taboos are diminished when the taboo itself becomes common knowledge. It seems odd that people don’t like the idea of a separation between church and state. I have no moral issue with anyone who practices any religion, as long as they are a positively driven person. Adaptation is a trait humans have excelled at, there is often no harm when adapting. The world will continue to change long after our race ends, in whatever form it may come, neither you nor I can affect that. So why not be peaceful during the time we have and enjoy life, just to live. Pray to whatever your heart desires as long as it’s your heart and not your head’s desire.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 6:12pm
  15. If they were to teach “LBGT History” in my home town of Claremore, Oklahoma, they would have to include Lynn Riggs, author of “Green Grow the Lilacs,” the historical novel about Indian Territory becoming a state and happenings in Claremore. Riggs also wrote the play version of his book and it was produced on Broadway. And… they used his book and play to create the Broadway musical, “Oklahoma!” In stories about him written in Oklahoma, you don’t read that Riggs, who was also of Cherokee heritage, was openly gay outside of Oklahoma.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 6:46pm
  16. I grew up in California and went through the school system there. I am 60 years old now and have been aware of gay people since I was 5 years old and introduced to my Uncle Bob & my Uncle Tony. Is it really that complicated California?? I totally agree with Joe-Allen Doty. All you have to do is study up on the great writers, artists, musicians etc. to have a wealth of information to pass on to the students. California was always portrayed as a liberal, well-informed & fad-starting state. Come on~~we made the first skateboards for god’s sake. Teachers, do what you are paid to do and research any subject you don’t have a clue about, learn about it & teach it. Don’t try to make such a big deal about it. Believe me, kids from California are much more savvy than you give them credit for. Now, I guess we have to worry about the “teachers” and their seemingly confounded interpretation of LGBT. Come on teachers, open your eyes as you are taught to open the children’s eyes to whatever subject matter is important and teach it! It is extremely important in this day and age and, in my opinion, should have been taught from the time I entered school in 1955. Either put together a good and informative lesson plan or find another vocation in life.

    Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 7:46pm
  17. Let’s start with Mathew Shepherd

    Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 1:11am
  18. Hey, a good idea to teach kids about the gay community slightly would be to bring up superheros. I mean real superheros that are popular. I forget the name of two of them but they are a gay couple, also teen titans now has an openly gay character/hero amongst them too. That an an idea cause kids love comics and they are clean

    Posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 8:30pm