California becomes first state to require classes in gay history
In April, 2011, the California state Senate passed a bill that would mandate social studies lessons on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) issues. The effort is an attempt to counter anti-gay stereotypes and reduce incidents of bullying and suicide. The measure moves on to the State Assembly and then to the governor’s office for signing.
The bill is not specific as to the substance of the lessons or to what grades will receive them. School districts will make those decisions. The bill, if passed, will prohibit the purchase and use of textbooks that reflect adversely on gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. It would go into effect in the 2013-2014 school years.
Supporters applaud the bill as another necessary step in eliminating the bias against gay students. Opponents cite an already over-crowded curriculum and the privacy rights of parents who find the subject objectionable.
On the opposite side of this issue is an effort in Tennessee to ban any discussion of gay issues in public school kindergarten through eighth-grade classes. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill it passed a state Senate committee in April, 2011, and moves on for further debate. The bill prohibits any discussion of sexual behavior other than heterosexuality prior to the ninth grade. Update: This bill didn’t pass but supporters stated it will be reintroduced in 2012.
What do you think? Similar to sex-education in public schools, should you and your parents be able to opt-out of these classes without any consequences? Do you think mandatory classes will bring about greater tolerance of LGBT individuals and issues? How do you feel about the effort to keep any discussion of gay issues out of school? Should there be censorship of any subject in the educational setting? Or is school the place to calmly discuss all issues in the interest of broadening your mind and forming a balanced perspective? What about schools being “a marketplace of ideas” as described by the Supreme Court in Tinker (1969) or the Court’s statement that “a subject should never be excluded from the classroom merely because it is controversial?”
Update: On July 14, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. In a statement he said, ”History should be honest. This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.” The law also bans teaching materials that reflect poorly on gays or selected religions.
In August, 2013, California passed a bill allowing transgender students to choose which sports teams (male or female) they wish to participate in as well as which bathrooms they prefer to use.