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Politics

'Stop SB 48' Doesn't Want California Students to Know about Edna St. Vincent Millay?

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Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay
​In the history of the world, gays and lesbians have always made important contributions to many different societies. One such person is Edna St. Vincent Millay, the playwright, feminist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

At the time of her death in 1950, the New York Times described Millay as "one of the greatest American poets of her time."

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

Millay was known as a free spirit who became famous in 1912 when her poem "Renascence" did not receive a first place award in a major poetry contest and a highly publicized scandal ensued.

Millay was openly bisexual and wrote frankly about female sexuality, which made her a controversial figure. She was also political in her writings and challenged the status quo.

In 1923, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poems, which included "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver."

On his TV show in 1970, Johnny Cash recited the poem during a special Christmas episode.

The poet Richard Wilbur, who twice received the Pulitzer Prize for his work, said that Millay "wrote some of the best sonnets of the century."

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.

Recently, gay rights activists have become concerned that if the petition drive is successful, the gay community will face a major political battle to prevent the repeal of SB 48.

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.

Reilly T. Bates contributed to this post.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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