News (USA)

Anti-gay activists launch new efforts to overturn California’s gay history law

Not one but two anti-gay initiatives have been submitted to state officials in an effort to thwart Senate Bill 48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act.

In the first proposal, opponents are trying to alter the law so that California school students don’t have to learn about LGBT Americans’ historical contributions.

Anti-gay activists are also proposing a second initiative that would allow parents to opt their children out of school instruction in social science and family life that conflicts with their moral convictions. Parents can already opt their children out of health lessons.

The proposals, received by the state attorney general’s office November 16, come at a time when Equality California, a key SB 48 sponsor, has been weakened by leadership and financial troubles, and appears unprepared to protect the legislation.

The new law is set to take effect January 1.

Among other provisions, the repeal proposal would strike LGBTs from the list of groups that students would have to receive social science instruction on.

A previous attempt to repeal SB 48 altogether through a referendum recently failed, but that move’s supporters have claimed they came close to gathering the almost 505,000 signatures they needed to get their proposal before voters in 2012. It is not known if that figure is accurate.

EQCA spokeswoman Rebekah Orr said the new campaign “is likely to be an even uglier effort than their previous one.”

“It’s very specifically targeted at LGBT people. It makes extremely clear what their motivations are,” Orr said.

Richard Rios, the chair of the Christian Coalition of California, submitted the two anti-gay proposals. In an interview, he said, “It’s not a homophobic issue. It’s an issue of the requirement of the teaching of something that’s contradictory to one’s faith.”

Asked about how teaching the historical contributions of someone like slain gay icon Harvey Milk would contradict someone’s religious beliefs, Rios invoked same-sex relationships. He said that in his upbringing, he learned that any relationship other than that between a man and a woman “is not a godly relationship.”

In San Francisco and other places, children are already taught about LGBT-headed families. Rios couldn’t name anyone who’s been harmed by such curriculum.

Signatures soon

Once the attorney general’s office issues titles and summaries for SB 48 repeal and the opt-out proposal, they will go to the secretary of state’s office for approval. After the proposals clear that agency, proponents will have 150 days to gather the 504,760 valid signatures they need for each to get on the November 2012 ballot.

Rios said the committees behind the ballot proposals, on which he sits – the Committee to Repeal SB 48 and the Committee for Parental Rights in Education – have just started raising money. He said they have about 400 distribution centers committed to their effort, for activities such as distributing petitions, but he wouldn’t share any details, such as where they are.

He also wouldn’t say much about their fundraising plans. However, he said, “We’ve got commitments in the six figures right now.” Rios estimated each campaign around the proposals he submitted would cost about $13 million to win approval from voters in November.

Openly gay Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored SB 48, which Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law in July. Anti-gay activists then quickly launched the failed referendum campaign.

Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute was one of the main people behind that effort. Rios noted she and others could still launch another campaign. England didn’t respond to an interview request.

Rios said England had come close to success to qualifying the referendum, and he expressed confidence in the future of his proposals. He cited the number of signatures England and others claim to have gathered through volunteers in the short time frame with which they had to work.

Rios said those backing the new proposals would start with a “volunteer distribution chain and other channels that we have.” He said they might hire paid signature gatherers.

Leno said in an interview this week that the proposed ballot initiatives are “real threats, and we need to take them seriously.” He said the efforts “will be anything but grassroots-driven. … This will be paid for by the very deep pockets of far right extremists.”

“We need to monitor the progress of the signature gathering, and at a certain point decisions need to be made regarding investments in a decline to sign campaign,” he added.

Leno reacted to the notion that parents should be able to opt their children out of instructions due to conflicts with their religious beliefs by saying, “The very same arguments were made when black studies and women’s studies were first proposed.”

EQCA’s problems

Since Brown signed SB 48 into law in July, EQCA’s problems have mounted.

In October, Executive Director Roland Palencia resigned, just three months after he started the job. The organization hasn’t replaced him with an interim director, although consultant Joan Garry, the former executive director of the national Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is starting to help EQCA sift through its affairs.

In recent years, the organization has bled hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it appears to have no specific plans on how to staunch the cash flow.

Asked about the impact the latest repeal effort would have on EQCA given those circumstances, Orr said, “I think it’s an opportunity, an opportunity for our movement to focus and to reengage. We’re certainly prepared to play a leadership role in that, as we always have.”

Orr said the coalition of groups that came together to work against the SB 48 referendum has continued to meet and remains “committed to protecting and defending the law,” but she couldn’t offer specific plans.

She also said that factors such as anti-gay activists hiring signature gatherers would affect their plans.

She and Palencia previously refused to say how much money had been gathered to fight SB 48 repeal.

Orr estimated last week that if the new repeal proposal makes it to the ballot, fighting it could cost a total of at least $35 million.

GSA Network was another SB 48 co-sponsor. Interim Executive Director Laura Valdez didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.

Seth Hemmelgarn is an Assistant Editor at the Bay Area Reporter.

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