Lessons on gays’ contributions spark fresh controversy
New state legislation that seeks to ensure the accomplishments of gays are accurately reflected in California’s classrooms is causing fresh controversy here in Alameda, where the school district’s efforts to put anti-gay bullying lessons in place at elementary schools pitted local religious conservatives against gay-led families and their allies.
Last week, several Alameda residents told The Island they got an e-mail from a group called Committee to Change AUSD School District urging them to contact members of the state Senate’s Education Committee and request that they vote against SB 48, a bill from Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that would add sexual orientation and religion to the list of characteristics that can’t be reflected adversely in instructional materials.
“If passed, it would force all teachers to virtually praise the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) and their lifestyles one-sidedly in all Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes for all subjects, against the beliefs and principles of the teachers, parents, and taxpayers in California!” the anonymous e-mail, which called the fight against the bill a “crucial battle,” says.
It says the group has “already lined up teachers and parents as plaintiffs” for a lawsuit to stop the bill if passed.
“But if we can stop them at the California Legislature, that would save us much money, time, and efforts. We also need to show them our determination and capability now,” it says.
One parent who forwarded the e-mail to The Island called it a “disturbing screed” filled with “hateful misinformation.” Others writing into the Alameda Parents Network e-mail list last week offered their opposition to the missive.
“How do these haters even feel like it’s OK to send this garbage out? How can we put pressure on these jerks to stop the madness?” one parent wrote in under the subject line, Bigotry in Alameda, It’s Time to Stop–No Tolerance for Intolerance.
Leno’s bill would add sexual orientation and religion to a list of characteristics that can’t be reflected adversely in California schools’ instructional materials and adds gays to the list of groups whose contributions must be reflected accurately in the classroom. Both are protections that several other groups of people currently enjoy.
“Current law requires that the historical contributions of traditionally underrepresented groups be included in instructional materials. The absence of any reference to the many important historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) Americans to the development of this state and nation is a powerful exception,” Leno wrote in explaining the purpose of the bill.
“The historically inaccurate exclusion of LGBT Americans in social sciences instruction as well as the spreading of negative stereotypes in school activities sustains an environment of discrimination and bias in schools throughout California. This is a primary obstacle to addressing California’s bullying epidemic that continues to plague a majority of LGBT youth,” he wrote.
A similar bill authored by former state Senator Sheila Kuehl was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
School district leaders’ 2009 consideration and adoption of anti-gay bullying lessons for Alameda’s elementary school students sparked a battle between religious conservatives and others who opposed the lessons and gay parents and their supporters that drew national attention. Dubbed Lesson 9, the lessons’ opponents led unsuccessful lawsuits against them and an aborted recall drive against the three school board members who voted to adopt them.
The group that sent last week’s e-mail opposing Leno’s bill promoted two fresh candidates, James Pruitt and Lesson 9 opponent Clay Pollard, during the most recent school board election in November. Both lost.
The group’s website accuses school district leaders of mismanaging the district’s money.
Sean Cahill, a parent who worked to get Lesson 9 passed who also received the e-mail, will be offering his experiences with a Senate committee considering the bill on Tuesday. And he has asked other local supporters of the bill to join him.
“This is something that’s larger that Alameda,” Cahill said. “It’s important to have accurate information and to share what happened here.”