California Adds Gay Rights Advocates to History Books

ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:

Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to hold elected office, and Kathy Kozachenko, the first lesbian woman elected to office, will soon join the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony in the pages of civil rights history in California.

A law signed Thursday by Gov. Edmund Brown requires public schools to include members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities in their history lessons. The law also ensures disabled people and Pacific Islanders are included.

“This better teaches the broad diversity of the human experience and isn’t that what we try to do when we educate?” said California State Sen. Mark Leno, who sponsored the legislation.

Leno said that if the country teaches about Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for civil rights and was assassinated for his efforts, then it should also teach about Harvey Milk, who fought for civil rights and assassinated for it.

“There is no sensible reason to teach one and sensor the other,” Leno said.

Opponents of the bill argue that the curriculum changes are one-sided and prevent teachers from presenting any negative information about homosexual people.

“We feel it represents essentially a decision to inject pro-homosexual ideological propaganda into our schools,” said Peter Sprigg , a Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council which advocates for Christian-based family values.

Sprigg said there should not be a specific “quota” for which type of people are taught in history classes.

“I don’t think that the focus should be on making sure you include every group that exists in society,” he said. “We should teach what history is important to our country as a whole.”

The law’s changes will not show up in California textbooks for at least five years because of the state’s textbook adoption process.

But teachers could choose to create their own lesson plans about figures like Harvey Milk as soon as they wanted, said Rebecca Rosa, a social science education lecturer at the University of California Davis.

Rosa said the law includes people for their accomplishments, not specifically because of their sexual orientation.

“The idea is we are looking at individuals who have made a difference because of events,” Rosa said. “If that person’s accomplishment has something to do with their sexual orientation then it’s huge, it’s significant.”

While California’s new law nudges the state’s curriculum in a more liberal direction, standards passed last year in Texas take the Lone Star state down a more conservative path. The two states are the largest textbook buyers in the country.

In May Texas Board of Education members approved changes to the curriculum that were the center of fierce partisan debate among board members and around the country. They were adopted by a 10-5 vote down party lines in May.

“The whole social studies adoption process is still very painful to me,” said Democratic board member Mavis Knight. “I felt that the majority of the members of our board did not always adhere to accurate historical facts.”

The new standards , for example, add greater focus to the Christian traditions of the founding fathers, replace the word “capitalism” with “free enterprise system” and show that the fears of McCarthyism were confirmed by the Verona Papers.

“Education is an area that the Constitution leaves up to the states, so each state is able to emphasize what their citizens believe is important,” said board Chairperson Barbara Cargill, a Republican. “These are curriculum changes that are obviously important to the citizens of Texas.”

Knight said a law like the one that just passed in California would never happen in Texas because “California is far more open-mined just about on every issue as compared to Texas.”

“The majority of the members of the board would have heart attacks and just die if there was ever anything mentioned about a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual,” Knight said.

The Texas board will vote next week to approve the actual textbooks to be used in the upcoming school year that reflect their changes.

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