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Queer Town

Gay History Bill: Why Is the Los Angeles Times Spreading Sex-Ed Lies Birthed by 'Stop SB 48'?

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Thu, Oct 27, 2011 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge stop_sb_48_happy_family.jpg
Hide your little boys and girls... 'cause California's scheming, sexed-up politicians are about to sneak gay porn all up in their kindergarten classrooms!

Heh. That's the gist of the "Stop SB 48" campaign, which seeks to repeal a new California law requiring the contributions of LGBT-identifying individuals to be included in the state's K-12 social-studies curriculum. (It updates an existing educational code that mandates the inclusion of women and minorities. The update covers people with disabilities, too.)

But the fib that SB 48 would likewise affect the sex-ed curriculum isn't just for religious zealots anymore. It was also the gist of three amazingly underinformed Los Angeles Times pieces in the last week-and-a-half -- one news story and two editorials.

Jim Key, chief public-affairs officer for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, tells the Weekly that even after Nick Goldberg, editorial pages editor at the Times, admitted to him that one of the editorials seemed misinformed, no correction has been run.

Here's an excerpt from an email Goldberg sent to Key:

"I want to hear what Karin [Klein] has to say about why she wrote what she did. My initial inclination, however, is that by suggesting that this be taught in sex-ed classes (even though the law specifically says that this should be taught in the social sciences) we left readers with a misimpression about what the law requires."

Although "Stop SB 48" didn't gather enough signatures to be included on the next California ballot, Key is worried they'll try again for November 2012 -- and with the fear-mongering raining down from as high up as the Times, they just might stand a chance.

On October 16, a piece by education writer Teresa Watanabe titled "How to teach gay issues in 1st grade" ran on the front page of the Times. (It was later re-titled "California schools scrambling to add lessons on LGBT Americans" online.)

Of course, nowhere in the new law does it say, or even suggest, that gay "issues" be raised in the classroom. [Read the full language of SB 48 here.] So the headline has already misled the reader thus far.

Watanabe then spends the majority of the article discussing the controversial nature of teaching young kids about families with two mommies or two daddies -- and, as students get older, teaching them about the sexual side of that in health class. She writes:

"Those topics, educators say, are clearly inappropriate at the younger ages, raising tough questions about how to carry out the new law in elementary school."

It is true that teachers probably won't be able to call historical figures "gay" without getting some uncomfortable questions from the kids, and we'll give the Times credit for thinking that far into the law. (Then again, what doesn't inspire awkward sex quips from a kid?)

However, SB 48 makes absolutely no stipulation that teachers must delve into a historical figure's sexual exploits. Just as history books used to be filled to the brim with white straight males, no chicks in sight, they currently skirt many important historical figures simply because they were gay.

Many districts don't -- LAUSD, the Times notes, is very progressive on this front -- but our state has its fair share of Adam and Eve thumpers, as well.

Should George Washington be excluded from the books because he screwed all his slaves? No. Does speaking about Queen Anne require a teacher to talk about her tendency to sleep around? No. On the other hand, though, sometimes sexuality changes history. Walt Whitman was as influential a poet as any in America, and the weight his desire lent to his poetry isn't negligible.

The Times argues that SB 48 is too controversial, too politicized, too difficult to implement. But the whole point of the law is to teach a new generation, while its mind is still open, that gayness isn't all greasy Chippendales dancers and reality-show girl-on-girl. Whether sexual orientation is a choice or not (which it's not, but we'll humor the opposition here), if it ever changed the course of history, which of course it has, we can't ignore that. We also can't ignore the LGBT fight for equality, just as we can't ignore women's suffrage.

"Teaching the contributions of Harvey Milk is no more a gay issue than teaching the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a black issue," says Key.

Watanabe writes in the Times:

"[Judy Chiasson, LAUSD coordinator for human relations, diversity and equity] said LGBT topics are controversial because people conflate them with sex -- and, for religious conservatives, sin. 'People sexualize homosexuality and romanticize heterosexuality,' she said."

Which is precisely the reason we need to start in the history books, well before sex creeps into the curriculum at all. (Plus, if all sinners were excluded from our social-studies texts, we'd be left with freaking leaflets.)

Blissfully unaware of the true language of the bill and relying solely on the Times' front-page news piece, its editorial board then launched into an irrelevant sex-ed tangent that serves to instill the same fears in parents as the "Stop SB 48" campaign:

During the first several years of school, those requirements should be truly minimal. Young children can learn that there are many different kinds of people and families and that all must be treated respectfully. But too much detail is not necessary at this age.

Beyond that, many schools will need suggestions about where instruction about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people or issues might best fit into the existing curriculum. Such information should be relevant to the subject under study. So where might this schooling be appropriate? In sex education, definitely. (The Los Angeles Unified School District already addresses the issue in its health classes.) In civics classes about the California initiative process, perhaps, where a discussion of Proposition 8 might be germane. Public schools have been given a poorly crafted, politically motivated mandate; the state board will have to be thoughtful where legislators were not.

Huh. The mandate seems pretty simple to us: Teach kids that no human is more or less noteworthy because of his or her sexual orientation. That's really all the law says.

Another Times editorial from last Tuesday argues that the problem with SB 48 is it was crafted by politicians. The editorial board compares the American left and right's push-pull over LGBT history with Israel and Palestine's conflict over how to describe each other in their textbooks.

We're not kidding. From the opinion piece:

"There will always be debates over textbooks -- over what history is important and whose interpretation ought to prevail and how competing narratives ought to be told. But we'd feel more comfortable if that debate were conducted by scholars and educators rather than politicians."

Unfortunately, though, scholars and educators don't have the same power to fight bigotry from the inside out, through sweeping policy.

The Times complains that politicians have required teachers to include "some sort of positive message about gay people in their lessons." In fact, the bill says, verbatim, that lessons cannot "promote a discriminatory bias" or "reflect adversely upon" someone based on his or her "race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, and sexual orientation."

That's a big difference -- and an important one for a major national newspaper to get right, journalistically and morally. Speaking of "poorly crafted."

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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