Calif. moves to comply with 2011 gay history law

Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington. He was also a gay man. Photo public domain.

LISA LEFF, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California education officials took the first step this week toward complying with a law that requires public schools to include prominent gay people and gay rights' milestones in the curriculum, adopting a set of classroom material guidelines that prohibit "pejorative descriptions" based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The California Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved new standards stating that textbooks, workbooks and other teaching materials purchased with state funds must avoid "descriptions, depictions, labels, or rejoinders that tend to demean, stereotype, or patronize individuals" who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

"Materials should not convey the impression that persons of gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, or transgender identity, are any different from other people in their emotions or their ability to love and be loved," the standards read.

The criteria will be used by the state over the next few years to guide the adoption of new materials, which also will be evaluated to ensure they include the contributions of prominent gay and transgender people when it would be historically accurate to do so, California Department of Education spokesman Paul Heffner said.

"A local district can make a decision of what materials are appropriate for use in their schools, but if they want to use state instructional materials, funds, they would have to choose them from materials on a state-adopted list developed using these social content standards," Heffner said.

The standards were last updated in 2000 and did not previously include a section outlining how sexual minorities are to be portrayed in the books and other resources handed out to students.

The changes adopted this week were made in part to implement a first-in-nation bill, passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, requiring schools to teach the contributions of gay, lesbian and disabled people in social studies lessons.

The legislation, known as SB48, also prohibited the adoption of any materials that reflect adversely on gays or particular religions. It was supposed to take effect in January 2012, but because of budget cuts that have put state textbook funds on hold until 2015, few districts have moved to implement it.

The Capitol Resource Institute, a religious conservative group, mounted two unsuccessful efforts to qualify a ballot measure overturning the law, but was unable to secure the necessary signatures.

Gay-Straight Alliance Network Executive Director Carolyn Laub, whose San Francisco-based group supported the law and helped lobby for its passage, said Friday that the state school board's support "sends a really powerful statement" and she hopes and expects school districts will move voluntarily in coming months to make sure that materials purchased with local dollars conform with the new guidelines.

"Our students have said to us, 'The only time I ever learned or saw any gay person ever reflected in any materials is when we learned about the AIDS epidemic,'" Laub said. "We need to make sure all curricular materials, regardless of subject, need to reflect the diversity of California and cannot perpetuate stereotypes and reflect adversely on any group."

The state school board also approved a change, under the section dealing with racial and ethnic groups, replacing an anachronistic reference to "American Negroes" with "African Americans."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.