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Gay-giography: A Textbook Case

By Lloyd

SACRAMENTO – On May 11, the California senate voted 22-15 to pass SB 1437, by Santa Monica Democrat Sheila Kuehl, "an act to amend Sections 51500, 51501, and 60044 of the Education Code, relating to prohibited instruction."

The bill prohibits the adoption of textbooks or other instructional materials that "contain any matter that reflects adversely," on persons because of their race or ethnicity, gender, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion." New to the list are "gender" and "sexual orientation."

There is more to her bill than prohibition of criticism toward homosexuals. Kuehl, the first openly gay member of the California Legislature and former television actress who played Zelda Gilroy on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," wants social science to include "age-appropriate" study of "people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”

How such a re-write of history would play out is not entirely clear. With historical figures, sexuality is often a matter of dispute. Some scribes wondered if California would be required California to "out" Abe Lincoln, based on a controversial biography, or single out Eleanor Roosevelt for her odd friendship with Lorena Hickok. Renee Richard competed in tennis as a woman after a sex-change operation, and would likely qualify for honorable mention in textbooks under Kuehl's standard.

The sexual equivalent of class antagonism seems to lurk behind the proposal. ''When I was a kid, there were no women in the textbooks, no black people, no Latinos," Kuehl told the New York Times. "As far as I knew, the only people who ever did anything worthwhile were white men.'' On ABC News she said, "You could study James Baldwin's novels, and they say James Baldwin was an African American writer. But they could say he was an African American gay writer." She also thinks that a teacher should mention Langston Hughes’s “sexuality” in addition to the fact that he was a "black poet" ntion his sexuality. But she doesn't want, say, Chester Himes, author of The Lonely Crusade, to be described specifically as a heterosexual black writer. And she seems unaware that many blacks remain uncomfortable, to say the least, with the linkage of gay issues to the civil rights movement.

The 22-15 senate vote to approve Kuehl's bill followed strict party lines, though one Democrat, Dean Florez, voted against SB 1437 and two abstained. Supporters include the National Association of Social Workers, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance, People for the American Way, the Cesar Chavez Institute, MALDEF, and the California Federation of Teachers. State education boss Jack O'Connell has not commented on the bill.

Opposition to SB 1437 comes from such groups as the California Catholic Conference, the Campaign for Children and Families, Concerned Women For America of California, the Capitol Resource Institute, and California Family Council. Surprisingly, California's major liberal newspapers aren't too fond of the bill either.

"It is, forgive us, a textbook lesson in political meddling," said the Los Angeles Times, two days before Kuehl's measure passed the state Senate. "It's a twisting of what history textbooks are supposed to do: tell about the most important contributions, and misdeeds, of people in history, regardless of their beliefs and orientations. Instead, under Kuehl's proposal, books would recount history in part through a gay and lesbian prism."

The liberal Sacramento Bee, which praises Kuehl as "one of the Capitol's most skilled legislators," saw it this way. "It is never a good sign when the California Legislature tries to micromanage what is in textbooks, especially the recounting of state history. When you see the signs, look for a contemporary political agenda. In this case, the agenda is the modern-day gay rights movement."

"Kuehl and her Democratic allies are imposing too much of their gay rights agenda onto the telling of history in ways that are simply inappropriate," opined the Bee. "This legislation isn't about protecting the rights of Californians who happen to be gay. It is about telling school boards what must be in textbooks, and telling historians what to write and how to write it. Kuehl should reconsider this unnecessary mandate."

Bill O'Reilly on Fox news found another ambiguity: “And also if you are a teacher, you can't say bad things about Jeffrey Dahmer?" said "He's a cannibal, a gay cannibal, and you can't say that's wrong? I mean, if what you're saying is true, teachers would not be able to cast aspersions on even villains if they were homosexual."

This may sound like shout-show hype, but in fact Kuehl's bill prohibits "any matter" that reflects adversely on homosexuals. This does lead, as O’Reilly noted, to questions. What about Andrew Cunanan, openly homosexual since high school, as described on CNN, and a "high-class homosexual prostitute," according to his own mother, who murdered five people in 1997, including fashion designer Gianni Versace? Does Cunanan come up in classroom discussions of mindless killing sprees? And what about someone like Mary Cheney, gay, proud, Republican, and the daughter of the current vice-president? Does Kuehl really want to prevent teachers from bashing someone bearing the Cheney name and DNA, which they would normally do under the academic status quo?

Those who voted for SB 1437 may be unaware that this trend comes down straight from the sixties, part of the left's multicultural offensive and long march through the institutions. When sixties-vintage professional ethnics and radicals demanded censorship of textbook content, the establishment duly caved. As Diane Ravitch noted in The Language Police, California's Board of Education adopted "social-content" standards in the seventies and in 1982 deployed textbook guidelines instructing publishers and teachers not to cast "adverse reflection" on politically correct groups, the same language in Kuehl's bill.

SB 1437 is now negotiating the California Assembly, also controlled by Democrats. If it passes there, which is likely, it still must be signed by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He terminated a measure on gay marriage. But since then he has moved to the left and may find it hard to say Hasta la Vista to a bill mandating sexual chauvinism for gays in California textbooks.

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