The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on September 23rd, 2011

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 23, 2011

The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility


The FAIR Education Act Is A Different Bill

The bill that Governor Brown signed into law, SB 48, is called the FAIR Education Act. We wrote of this law last week and mentioned the difficulty it would face in getting implemented. FAIR stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful and is applicable to the law’s stated intent, namely, to include the contribution of LGBT persons to the development of California and America.

It is a different kind of law. It carves out a specific domain. There is no age limit; classes from kindergarten to 12th grade must highlight LGBT contributions in American history. Religion is muzzled: “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law” is prohibited. It is mandatory for all students: parents cannot opt out, that is, they cannot request their child being excused from classes that highlight LGBT people’s role in history. Still, for all its specific do’s and don’ts, questions come up how it should actually be made to work.

Some Groups Normally Pro-LGBT Issues Hesitate Supporting SB 48

Unlike marriage equality, which is straight forward, you are either for or against, the FAIR Education Act has many normally sympathetic to LGBT issues hesitating to give their support.

Organized religion, of course, is against it for ideological and economic reasons. Ideological because they believe that being homosexual is a sin and economical because of the cost of buying new textbooks and providing the necessary teacher training. We understand their ideological reason and the economic reason is thrown in to support the ideological one. But in an April editorial, while the bill was still being debated in our legislature, the Los Angeles Times voiced objection to SB 48 on grounds that education should not be politicized. Writing that the task of writing history is not the province of politicians and should be left to historians, it goes on to say that the requirements for California’s school textbooks has been burdened over the years by a raft of requirements to proportionally represent minorities, the elderly, and those who are disabled while at the same time prohibiting mentioning anything derogatory about these groups. This is tantamount to sanitizing history and not conducive to a balanced education.

Others wonder how to approach the historical contribution of LGBT people. People, they argue deserve recognition for what they have done, not for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Is Walt Whitman one of America’s greatest poets because he was gay? Did his being gay inform his poetry? Or will there be a footnote in the text that explains that Walt Whitman was gay? Then there is the whole issue of age-appropriate teaching. When is something appropriate for what age? Even for straight sex-education, this is an issue endlessly debated.

Is It About Education Or Recognition?

Supporters argue that the bill is necessary to counter discrimination and bullying of LGBT students by faculty, staff and other students. Mark Leno, author of the bill, told the New York Times: “People oppose and fear the unfamiliar. When grade-school students understand the arc of the LGBT movement over 40 years, that otherness begins to dissipate. That’s desperately needed right now.” The bill is thus not about education per sé, but about visibility. Senator Leno intents to liberate California education from what Christopher Isherwood called heterosexual dictatorship, the writing of history from a heterosexual, white male perspective.

It is always instructive to read the intent of a specific piece of legislation, its congressional debates, and then the comments, both pro and con. We will continue to read, for it seems to us that SB 48 is a paradigm shift.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.


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