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'Stop SB 48' Doesn't Want California Students to Know about South African Simon Nkoli?

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Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge South African activist Simon Nkoli
  • South African activist Simon Nkoli

​In the history of the world, gays and lesbians have always contributed to advances in many different societies. One such person is Simon Nkoli, the anti-apartheid, gay rights, and AIDS activist in South Africa.

"Nkoli's brilliance, as an anti-apartheid student leader, as the founder of the black gay movement in South Africa and as an AIDS activist in his later years, was his understanding of the tenet that 'the personal is the political,'" reads his 1998 obituary in the Sunday Times of South Africa.

"From the time he came out of the closet, while Transvaal regional secretary for the Congress of South African Students in 1981, he put his body on the line and his destiny in the public eye."

In California, a group called "Stop SB 48" wants to repeal a state law that allows students to learn about Nkoli and other important people in history who were gay.

Nkoli was not only a major gay rights and AIDS activist who successfully worked for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians and people with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, but a champion of freedom who fought tirelessly to end apartheid in that country.

As an anti-apartheid student leader, he was arrested four times during rebellions in 1976, and joined the Congress of South African Students in 1979. Nkoli would continue to be active in that struggle, eventually being charged with treason and thrown into prison. If convicted, he could have faced the death penalty, but Nkoli was ultimately acquitted.

Nkoli's work to end apartheid earned him the respect of other anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela.

Ruth M. Pettis, the Oral History Project manager for the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project in Seattle, notes that, in 1996, South Africa became the first nation to include "sexual orientation" in its constitution's anti-discrimination clause.

Nkoli, who sought to end oppression of all kinds in South Africa, died of AIDS complications in 1998.

In July, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 48, also known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, into law.

It revised an existing law that adds the LGBT community to a list of under-represented cultural and ethnic groups that are covered in textbooks and other instructional materials in schools.

Stop SB 48 wants to repeal FAIR through a ballot measure, and the group has now started a petition drive to get the initiative on the June, 2012, ballot.

In seeking the repeal of FAIR, Stop SB 48 is creating the same kind of coalition of religious groups and conservative think tanks that worked to get California voters to approve anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in 2008.

Courage Campaign, Equality California, and other gay rights and social justice groups are undertaking a "decline to sign" effort to keep California voters from signing Stop SB 48's petition.

"They want kids to grow up thinking gay people have never contributed to society at all," Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs wrote in an email to his members.

In a series of posts that will run on Wednesdays, L.A. Weekly is highlighting those important gays and lesbians in history -- the same people Stop SB 48 doesn't want California students to know about.

Reilly T. Bates contributed to this post.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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