William Eadie, Professor, Journalism and Communications SDSU
Colin Pearce, Co-Chair, San Diego chapter of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
Related Story: New Year Brings New Laws Affecting Gays & Lesbians
CAVANAUGH: Ten new laws strengthening guy rights go into effect this year. Plus 2012 marks the end of the Maya calendar, but scholars disagree on the significance.
This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, January the 2nd, 2012.
The history of civil rights shows attitudes take time to change. This year's spate of new laws in California strengthened the rights of guys and lesbians suggests the momentum is picking up. We see things we take for grants for women and African Americans being codified in these laws for guys, lesbians, and transgenders. We also see opposition to these laws, and attempts to overturn them before they take root. We have in studio with us, William Edie, professor of journalism and media studies at SDSU. Thanks so much for being here, bill.
EADIE: Thanks I'm glad to be here .
CAVANAUGH: And Colin Pearce, who is the cochapter of the San Diego's gay, lesbian and straight education network. We're glad to have you.
PEARCE: Glad to be here.
CAVANAUGH: California is the first state in the country to require mandatory teaching about contributions of guys and lesbians in schools. SB48 has been challenged by at least five initiatives. Explain what this law will do.
EADIE: SB48 is fairly simple. Is essentially requires that schools will teach gay and lesbian history, contributions of guys and lesbians the a point in the school curriculum where the local school district feels it's appropriate. And the law provides for consultation with parents and with teachers, and it was -- it's been controversial, but this year it passed relatively easily and had the support of California teachers.
CAVANAUGH: So Colin, just to make this more real for us, give us some examples of things that are not in the school curriculum right now that would be added under this law.
PEARCE: Well, at the moment, I mean, one of the things that I would point out in terms of the legislation is, as bill points out, it's really not a new focus for California to believe that all of the children who are sitting in a classroom should see themselves rejected in their lesson plans and the course materials that they're reading. And all that this legislation is doing is adding some groups that were excluded, omitted in the past, so people with disabilities, Pacific islanders, and also lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So it's extending, really, the spread of inclusionary lessons. But are there certain things that we're not being taught in schools that perhaps now it might change?
PEARCE: I think that the kind of things that it's looking to do is to, for example, when students are being taught about various civil rights movements, whether it's the women's movement, civil rights movements of the '60s, that they would also be taught about the stone wall riots, they'd be taught about Harvey milk. Where they're taught about more recent political history, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell would obviously be an issue. But there are also contributions from specific individuals that may be have been omitted from the history books and from lessons in the past. There's one example that I like, which is my guess is that the majority of students who've learned about the civil rights movement, who've learnt about the march on Washington, didn't know that it was actually an openly gay man who organized the march. And that there was a man, Bayard Rustin, who was an openly gay African American who for quite some time had been ostracized by some of the other members of the movement, and when they came to organize the march on Washington, it was Martin Luther King and William Randolph invited him to come back and actually organize the march, and he played a pivotal role.
CAVANAUGH: But that's not in the history books so much.
PEARCE: And that's the kind of thing, when you read the history book, that's not there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Harvey milk not in the history books at the moment?
PEARCE: Well, it can be. Yes, it's really a question of encouraging that this kind of material be in the history books. And certainly with somebody like Mike Bayard Rustin, I was struck when representative John Lewis described his role in the march on Washington and said the march on Washington without his contribution would have been like a bird without wings, which I think symbolizes how important a role he played. And if you imagine a 14-year-old, 15-year-old gay or lesbian student sitting in a classroom, to hear about the value of a contribution of an openly gay man back in the '60s, and to see the role they played in shaping America's future would be very valuable, very affirming to them.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this all seems very obvious, but there's some strong opposition to this piece of legislation. Opponents collected about half a million signatures to overturn it but didn't get enough to get it on the ballot. But I'm just going to read a statement from Randy Thomason who's president of a group called saveCalifornia.com. He says, quote, "Jerry Brown has trampled the parental rights of the overwhelming majority of California fathers and mothers who don't want their children to be sexually brain washed at school. This new law will prohibit textbooks and teachers from telling children the facts, that homosexuality is neither healthy or biological." I would you would dispute these are a fact. These facts are definitely in dispute. But I do want to put out the phone numbers, because I think it's difficult to know whether it's a minority or majority of parents. But there are differences of opinions. Do you see this as a civil rights movement following the tradition of gaining equality for women and African Americans, for example? Do you think this law goes too far? Do you have any comments to join us here on Midday Edition? How would you react to critics who say that public schools are being used as a tool for social engineer something.
EADIE: Well, this is a kind of argument that was used in the proposition eight campaign, which was about marriage, quality. And as you may recall, that was a very bitterly fought campaign. And the election was very close. And of course it's been in the Courts ever since. And we expect a ruling fairly soon from the appellate court. But the people who were advocating for proposition 8 were very effective in getting parents worried that somehow inappropriate things would be taught to their children if this particular law would pass. We're talking about history, here. We're not talking about indoctrination. We're talking about taking contributions of individuals and groups and analyzing them for students, teaching them what happened, but also teaching them how to think critically about them. And that's very important. And it's also important that it's not something that would be started in kindergarten, necessarily. Although teaching tolerance is something that does need to start early, in very, very general terms. We know that that works when it starts early. But the contributions of gay and lesbian people are important and shouldn't be erased. And unfortunately, the opposition is intending to do just that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I wanted to ask you about that. Upon the law doesn't seem to really say what sage this should start. Should just K through 12? Is there some question as to when these stories should be introduced?
PEARCE: Well, are the legislation is specific in that it talks about factual information, it talks about schools and school districts working with parents and encouraging parental involvement. So that parents would be involved in the kind of lesson planning that would go on. And very importantly that it be age-appropriate. So those things are all in the legislation. And I know that sometimes that gets omitted, perhaps, by people opposed to the legislation in the interests of scare-mongering.
CAVANAUGH: So this term, age-appropriate, that's open to a lot of different interpretations. Do you have a sense of what age it is appropriate?
PEARCE: I mean, I certainly sort of yield to the premise of the legislation, which is that it's up to the schools, it's up to the teacher, and also up to the parents of the students in those classes. I would say that one of the things that certainly that glisten is involved in is supplementing the education of gay lesbian and transgendered children in school it is. The LGBT students are a particularly endangered group within schools, and statistics show they face an incredibly hostile climate, whether it be from peers, whether it be from just the general sort of school experience that I face, 90% of LGBT students are hearing homophobic slurs on a regular basis, 60% of them have been verbally or physically harassed. And what's equally sort of upsetting is that 2/3 of those who have had those experiences say that they don't feel safe to come forward and to tell them at school that this has gone on. They don't think it'll make a difference. These are the kinds of initiatives that can be introduced that create a climate that is so much more safe and affirming for those students, and as a result for all students.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see there's another law that's also going into effect in July this year. The California gay bullying law. Combats gay and lesbian -- bullying of gay and lesbian students in public schools by requiring students to have a uniform process for dealing with bullying complaints and mandates that school personnel intervene if they witness gay bullying. One has to wonder, though, whether schools shouldn't have a policy Johnson bullying in general. How frequent is it that somehow gay bullying seems to have slipped through those cracks?
PEARCE: One of the things, and again, we've been working recently for example with the San Diego unified school district. And they themselves decided to pass a comprehensive antibullying policy. And what was very important about that policy is that it enumerated several groups, and -- of which LGBT students were one, but race, ethnicity, religion, personal characteristics, physical characteristics, those kind of things certainly are experiences that if you don't enumerate groups, you're not going to be successful in combating antibiased based bullying. Of the other thing they would stress that it's not just gay students. One of the challenges that -- and one of the things that I think as a society we need to combat to create a safer school environment for all students is the stigma attached to being gay. There are so many tragic incidents that people may be aware of students who took their lives because they couldn't face the bullying they were under. And it's not necessarily clear that those students were gay. They were perceived to be gay or the use of gay slurs was what was selected by the bullies as the very worst thing that they could throw at them. And I think that that's why it's so important for the well being of all students that we combat this.
CAVANAUGH: This is a slew of legislation going into effect in California this year. Not just in the schools but in the Courts in relation to marriage, divorce, housing. Is this indicative of some kind of a trend? Obviously gay marriage is not yet legal in this state. But this more than usual?
EADIE: Yes, it is much more than usual. And we're -- I think it is spurred to some good measure by the proposition 8 debate. It raised the whole idea to the surface and got people thinking about LGBT rights. It also was spurred by Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is a really interesting example of how something can be implemented very effectively. There was a -- once the policy was repealed, there was a waiting period while the military devised training activities implemented them so that soldiers who, perhaps, might be scared of encountering openly gay and lesbian people in their ranks would know how to handle the situation. And in fact, this situation seems to have worked incredibly well. We haven't heard a lot of incidents about openly gay people in the military being assaulted. And that's why I think some of these activities that have been going on will end up being very good for younger students as well.
CAVANAUGH: And it my actually not be such a big deal for the younger students as it is for some of their parents.
CAVANAUGH: Some parents are concerned with this law because it does raise the issue of sexuality. How do you define someone who's gay or lesbian without getting into sex? Do you want to tackle that one? That raises the question of age-appropriateness again.
PEARCE: I think that certainly as -- depending on the age of the students, you are going to approach things in different ways. I was speaking to somebody who -- a gay couple, they have a daughter who's going off to kindergarten, and one of the projects in the very first week is gonna be bring in a photograph of your family. And so there'll be a discussion of children's families. Well, that girl has two moms. And so when they talk about families, they'll talk about the fact that in the United States , in California, in San Diego, we have a diverse society. And some children have two moms, and have children have two dads. And so that's the kind of way, I think, that things get introduced in an early stage because you can't omit one of the children in the class because they have two moms. They're not going to be excluded from that lesson. Every child in California deserves the same rights to the same kind of education as all the other children in the room.
CAVANAUGH: That's a good example, yes. I guess one might wonder how a teacher is going to go about incorporating this into the curriculum, when at the moment, there are no textbooks about that. That seems to pose a problem for the teachers, even though it must be said the teachers' union supports this initiative. Don't you see that as being a bit of a challenge for teachers?
PEARCE: I actually have a little bit more respect for teachers than that. I think they'll do just fine. And I think in many instances, there are teachers who are passionately committed to creating a safe environment for all of their students and for making sure that all of their students feel accepted and, affirmed in the class. And I would say that probably in some cases, in some school district, and in some schools, perhaps, they've actually felt concern that they would introduce these lessons and not be supported, and I think that now they're very relieved, and they're pleased that they'll be able to teach the kind of lessons that they think are important to generate acceptance in the classroom.
CAVANAUGH: Judge is it going to take so long for textbooks, bill?
EADIE: Textbook-writing is a long process. And it typically takes a while to gather the material, to revise existing textbooks to include extra material, plus then there is an adoption process that goes on at the state level, and that review process takes quite a bit of time as well. So won't see textbooks for a while. But teachers I think will be very creative, and there will probably be some resources that will be introduced to them that they can draw upon to come up with lessons that aren't textbook-dependent.
CAVANAUGH: And on a final note, there is sort of a local connection to this legislation because our own Senator, Christine Kehoe was a coauthor of this. And then assemblyman Nathan Fletcher was the only Republican to support it, which says a lot about his ability under party pressure to vote along party lines. Do you think the state legislature is ahead on gay issues? Either of you?
EADIE: I don't think so. I think you're seeing in California people moving on LGBT issues. We're not there yet on marriage equality. It's still pretty much a 50-50 proposition. But we're -- we've moved from being under 50% -- and younger people seem to be leading the way. The schools, the younger people are -- especially gay and lesbian students, or those perceived to be that way are being bullied. But on the other hand, when they get through that experience, oftentimes -- and get beyond it, oftentimes they become very supportive.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we'll have to see how this plays out in schools. It may turn out to be a lot less momentous than people think. But there may be more political opposition to it bubbling up this year. Thanks for coming in, bill.
EADIE: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Colin PEARCE who is the coauthor of San Diego's chapter of the gay, lesbian, and straight education network. Great to have you here, Colin.
PEARCE: Thank you.