SACRAMENTO — Gay rights groups told a California state commission Wednesday that they object to several of the textbooks that could be recommended for use in schools, saying the books don't include enough information about the contributions of LGBT Americans.
The state Department of Education is preparing to update textbook recommendations for the first time since California became the first state to require teaching about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
A coalition of LGBT rights groups said the books should not merely include a token reference to San Francisco civil rights icon Harvey Milk but integrate the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people throughout history. They also said the books should point out when historical or cultural figures had same-sex partners, like astronaut Sally Ride, Jane Addams, who is considered the mother of social work, entertainer Ellen DeGeneres or tennis champion Billie Jean King.
"It's not something to appease a particular part of the population but to truly include inclusive history throughout grades K-8," said Renata Moreira, executive director of Our Family Coalition, an LGBT advocacy group in the San Francisco Bay area.
Better representing diverse Americans in school lessons reduces discrimination, improves students' self-esteem and makes them less likely to drop out, Moreira told The Associated Press.
A state commission is weighing which of 12 history and social science textbooks to recommend for pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The coalition wants two of the books to be rejected and a third be turned back unless the publisher agrees to make substantial changes. Seven others were recommended for approval with minor changes while two were deemed adequate in their current form.
To receive the state's recommendation, the books are supposed to comply with a framework that requires teaching about LGBT people and events and to portray diverse Americans. With more than 6 million children in public schools, California is the nation's largest market for textbook makers. LGBT groups hope the state's recommendations will be carried through to textbooks sold in other states as well.
"It was definitely clear that it was new to a lot of folks, that this was something a lot of experts were going to need to help navigate," Jo Michael, legislative manager for Equality California, a gay rights group, said in an interview. "A lot of the publishers were engaged in the process, willing to listen."
California's decision to require teaching about the contributions of gays and lesbians sparked contentious debate in 2011, including an unsuccessful attempt to refer the mandate to voters.
The recommendations by the Instructional Quality Commission must be ratified by the Board of Education, likely in November, capping years of work to update California's instructional materials, which stalled due to budget cuts during the Great Recession. School districts are not required to select from the recommended textbooks, but their instructional materials must comply with the Legislature's requirements for inclusive depictions of gay Americans.
Before the LGBT mandate was added, California law required schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.
New textbooks will also add lessons on financial literacy, voter education, genocide and the contributions of people with disabilities.
The state's textbook recommendations were last updated in 2005, said Bill Ainsworth, a spokesman for the California Department of Education.
Updating the recommendations will expose students to the latest research and ensure that they are learning about the history and struggles of groups that have been downplayed or left out entirely from history books, he said.
"This new information is important for anyone to learn, but especially in California, which is a diverse state where everyone is welcome, regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status or disability status," Ainsworth said.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, isn't aware of similar legislation in any other state, spokesman Stephen Peters said.
Meanwhile, dozens of Hindus urged the board to reject textbooks they said perpetuated stereotypes about their religion and India, in part by focusing too much on poverty and India's caste system. The books should include Hindus' positive contributions to world history and culture, such as yoga, they said.