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Panel: Schools failing to teach gay, lesbian history (w/video)

California public schools do an inadequate job of teaching students about gay and lesbian history, despite a 2011 law that requires schools to teach such lessons, according to a national panel of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history scholars led by a Sonoma State University professor.

The Committee on LGBT History has proposed a revision to the state history and social studies framework that ensures kindergarten through 12th-grade students learn about LGBT figures and the roles they played in shaping society, according to Don Romesburg, the chairman of the women and gender studies department at SSU and the co-chairman of the LGBT history committee.

“Not including LGBT people in public instruction means not reflecting the reality that we live in,” he said. “It’s an omission that needs to be rectified.”

The 2011 Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act requires that the historical contributions of gays are included in textbooks and lesson plans. As the state Department of Education for the first time in nearly a decade revises its history and social science framework, which forms the basis of local school district curricula, Romesburg’s group submitted its proposal to make sure the state is in compliance with the law, he said.

“There was almost nothing about LGBT people in the framework,” he said.

Romesburg’s committee, made up of 20 LGBT scholars from around the nation, proposed lessons on LGBT issues for second-, fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders.

The proposed themes and topics include:

Teaching second-graders about family diversity and nontraditional families.

Fourth-grade lessons on the possibilities and motivations for same-sex relationships in Gold Rush-era California.

A historical look in eighth grade at the role of gender and sexuality during slavery and emancipation.

Anti-gay discrimination and the gay civil rights movement in 11th-grade history.

The Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education, has drafted its own history framework, but welcomes comments and feedback, said Tom Adams, executive director of the commission.

“We invite public comment,” Adams said. “While we’re in the middle of the process, it’s good to have participation.”

The commission’s draft includes instruction on gay rights historic figures such as Harvey Milk, the issue of gay marriage at the state and federal level and the so-called Lavender Scare persecution of homosexuals in 1950s U.S. government.

Romesburg said the state’s proposed framework only includes token mentions of LGBT issues.

“We were surprised by how minimal their proposal is for inclusion,” he said. “We would make comprehensive changes.”

The comment period will end next month, and the commission will vote on the draft framework in December. After another round of public revision, the Board of Education will approve the final version in the spring.

Romesburg said the state’s framework update and inclusion of gay ?history has not been controversial. Conservative groups in 2011 lobbied against the FAIR Education Act when it was known as Senate Bill 48, and led an unsuccessful effort to repeal the law, but have since been silent on the issue.

“The fact is that the FAIR Education Act is the law of the land,” he said. “What we are trying to do now is simply bring the state’s K-12 framework into compliance with the law.”

Bill Carle, chairman of the Santa Rosa City School Board, said that teaching gay history has not come up before the board. The district’s curriculum is set at the administrative level, he said.

“We have a law and we have a responsibility to put it into play,” he said. “People are starting to get the concept that we are all different. We have to be clear in our teaching and embrace that diversity and teach the positive aspects of that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown?@pressdemocrat.com.

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