By Evan Wagstaff -
California has become the first state in the nation to require public schools to teach students about the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday morning signed SB 48, which adds LGBT people — as well as various ethnic minorities and people with disabilities — to the list of groups that social studies classes must cover. It also prohibits discrimination against those groups in school-sponsored activities and instructional materials.
The Legislature had approved the bill last week, voting largely along party lines.
"History should be honest," Brown said in a statement. "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."
Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, who sponsored the bill, said it is an important step toward "first-class citizenship" for the LGBT community. "Denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives our young people an inaccurate and incomplete view of the world around them," he said in a statement.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Leno said that "we have been censoring an important chapter of American history."
He told a story about a sixth grader who beat one of his classmates to death in 2008 for being "too girly," adding, "We are failing our students if we do not instruct them that there are differences between us. When we deny them that, they determine they have a license to kill."
The law applies to classes from kindergarten through high school and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, though textbooks will not be reprinted to meet the requirement for several years, Leno said. Exactly how it is implemented will be up to individual school districts and classrooms.
“Of course, our eyes and ears are everywhere,” he said. “If there are classrooms ignoring this, it will become known and there will be attention brought to that.”
The bill had strong support among LGBT advocacy groups at a time when bullying of LGBT students gained national attention. “Today marks a monumental victory for the LGBT equality movement as the struggle of the diverse LGBT community in California will no longer be erased from history,” Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia said.
It was opposed by Republicans, including Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino, who said it promoted a "homosexual agenda." The measure also provoked passionate debate among parents.
This isn't the first time the Legislature has prescribed lessons, according to the Associated Press. Past educational mandates have included the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust.