Gov. Jerry Brown signs California LGBT teaching bill

In a U.S. first, Gov. Jerry Brown on July 14 signed into law a bill that requires California public schools to teach about LGBT people’s contributions to the economic, political and social development of California and the U.S.

The new law also prohibits classroom instruction and school-sponsored activities that promote a discriminatory bias on the basis of sexual orientation, and requires that newly acquired social-sciences textbooks and other social-sciences instructional material used in California adhere to the bill’s requirements.

Sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the measure cleared the Assembly July 5 in a 49-25 vote. It passed the Senate 23-14 on April 14.

“This is a watershed moment for the movement, as it will help to break the spell that they have over us: that we are bad for children and youth,” said Roland Palencia, executive director of Equality California. “Instead, this will point to the real culprit: harassment, discrimination, prejudice and invisibility. … (T)he contributions of diverse LGBT community will no longer be erased from history.”

“Today, we’ve written the latest chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement — one that will now be presented fairly and accurately in California schools,” said Carolyn Laub, executive director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “Gov. Brown has realized the hopes of youth who have been fighting for safe and inclusive schools, where all students learn about our history and gain respect for each other’s differences as a result.”

“Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans,” said Leno.

As the bill sat on Brown’s desk for several days, California LGBTs launched multiple campaigns to counteract a deluge of calls to the governor’s office in opposition to the bill, which had been targeted for defeat by a number activist groups that routinely oppose the gay rights movement.

Urgent action alerts were emailed to hundreds of thousands of LGBT-supportive Californians by Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign, and the San Diego LGBT Community Center. And alerts were about to go out from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Courage Campaign and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.

In addition, national LGBT blogs, such as Towleroad and AMERICAblog, prominently and repeatedly encouraged calls to Brown’s office.

Brown had declined to say in advance of the signing if he supported the bill, though he is considered to be reliably LGBT-supportive. At the point he signed the bill, calls to his office against it still outnumbered those in favor of it, though the gap was narrowing.

“(T)his historic bill … reverses decades of censorship and discrimination against LGBT people in public school classrooms,” said Kate Kendell, NCLR’s executive director. “Finally, all California students will learn about the contributions and accomplishments of LGBT people throughout history and into the present. LGBT students will be able live openly and with pride, knowing that their state and their schools embrace them and recognize their worth.”

“The governor’s and Legislature’s foresight will be repaid many times over when the next generation of California youth enter the world as healthier, more confident and better-educated adults,” she said. “This is the beginning of a new era of full inclusion and support for LGBT youth and their families in public schools, and I am proud that California is once again leading the way.”

NCLR’s legal director, Shannon Minter, called Brown’s signature “a major turning point for our movement.”

“California is the first state to mandate inclusion of accurate information about LGBT people and history in public classrooms,” Minter said. “This will change the future for LGBT youth and their families in ways that are just as important and far-reaching as marriage equality.”

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