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History

'Stop SB 48' Doesn't Want California Students to Know About Gertrude Stein?

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Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 8:00 AM

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click to enlarge Writer and art collector Gertrude Stein - CARL VAN VECHTEN
  • Carl Van Vechten
  • Writer and art collector Gertrude Stein
​​In the history of the world, gays and lesbians have always contributed to advances in many different societies. One such person is Gertrude Stein, influential writer and art collector who grew up for a period of her life in Oakland.

"She provides a model of radical experimentation in poetry and prose that has really stimulated people for generations to go out and break forms and do things that have never been done before," Jayne Walker, lecturer emerita of the UC Davis writing program, tells the Contra Costa Times.

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

Stein, who lived much of her life in Paris with longtime partner Alice B. Toklas, was also a champion of young writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, encouraging them, critiquing their work, and buying their paintings.

"She's a person who crossed borders," retired Stanford professor Wanda Corn tells the Contra Costa Times.

Her books were often challenging and definitely experimental, but it's a style that continues to influence writers today. And she's still quoted with the often used, "There is no there, there."

"The influence of this mold-breaking writer is huge," says UC Davis' Walker.

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.

Every Wednesday, 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.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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