Leno bill would require schools to teach contributions of gays, lesbians

  • 7/17/2010: B4:

    11/5/2008: B3: Mark Leno

    5/7/2008: Mark Leno

    PC: Mark Leno speaks during a debate in Novato among democratic candidates for the Third State Senate District on Friday, February 29, 2008. photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat

California legislators are considering a bill that aims to change students' perceptions about the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to society.

The goal of the legislation introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, whose district includes southern Sonoma County, is to ensure that the historical contributions of LGBT people are included in instructional materials such as textbooks and lesson plans.

The proposed legislation is one of more than 2,300 bills that will be considered this legislative session. Among those are hundreds that North Coast lawmakers have introduced in the past few weeks that range from protecting medical marijuana users from employment discrimination to increasing fines for wildlife poaching.

With Senate Bill 48, known as the FAIR Education Act, Leno said he hopes to educate all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, about the civil rights movement of the LGBT community and to create a more welcoming environment for LGBT youth in schools.

"The inspiration behind the bill is really the tragic phenomenon we have seen recently of very extreme bullying going on within our schools, and the resultant violence that gay and lesbian students and transgender students are taking upon themselves, in many cases, in the form of suicide," Leno said.

Nancy Vogl, co-director of Positive Images, a group that advocates for Sonoma County's gay, lesbian, transgender youth, said that she's aware of at least three suicides in Sonoma County in the past 11 years that were related to being gay. Vogl said that although Sonoma County is generally welcoming to LGBT people, children and teens are still bullied in schools and issues persist.

"These young people were isolated," Vogl said. "Young people today who exhibit non-traditional gender identity — other kids are still uncomfortable about that. It just compounds their anxiety when they go to school feeling like there a girl in a boy's body, or a boy in a girl's body."

Vogl said attendance at the group's Thursday night support meetings has grown 30 percent in the past year.

Currently, schools are prohibited from adopting classroom materials that reflect negatively on anyone based on their race, sex, color, creed, disability, national origin or ancestry. The bill seeks to add and sexual orientation to that list.

To some opponents, that's a freedom of speech issue.

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