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Teaching Gay History In California Public Schools

Aired 7/18/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Social studies textbooks in California public schools will soon be adding another piece of history - contributions of gays and lesbians.

Textbooks in California will now include gay history.
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Above: Textbooks in California will now include gay history.

Social studies textbooks in California will soon be adding another piece of history. A bill signed by the governor last week adds historical contributions of gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public schools. One family advocacy group is already challenging the law.


Dean Vogel, President, California Teacher's Association

Randy Thomasson, President of

Laurie Moiser, San Diego County Office of Education, Coordinator District and School Improvement

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

California is now the first state in the nation to require schools to teach kids about the historical accomplishments of gay men and lesbians. Governor Jerry Brown signed the measure into law last week. Supporters say it's a major step forward toward full equality for gay citizens, but a challenge to the new law is surfacing among services. Dean Vogel is joining me, president of the California teacher's association. And good afternoon.

VOGEL: Good afternoon, Maureen, I'm happy to be with you today.

CAVANAUGH: What exactly does this new law require schools to do?

VOGEL: Basically, what it's asking schools to do is put into the instruction that would normally be a part of social studies, where you're looking at history and what's basically unfolding around the history of the state and the country, the contributions of GLBT people.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the California teachers' association supports this now law. Can you tell us why?

VOGEL: Well, we have a long history of supporting curricula that addressed the common values of society, that promote respect for diversity and cooperation, ideas that prepare the learned to compete in and cope with complex society. We see this very much in the same vain. Years ago, you couldn't see the contributions of women historical contexts. Not too long ago, you couldn't see the contribution of ethnic minority folk. And we see it's only a natural progression in terms of helping citizens understand the contributions of all citizens.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I've also heard that there are links between bullying and discrimination, and that there's some hope that including gay history into the curriculum might decrease that for gay students.

VOGEL: Well, that's very true. One of the difficulties that we have in schools is the -- trying to help these LGBT youth feel safe and comfortable in their school environment. And what we've found is that where we do have at school sites opportunities for these students to hear about contributions of GLBT people, not only in the school, but in society at large, they start feeling saver, more connected. . The part of it is that the students they work with and sit next to and interact with in class, when hearing these things, start to understand that they're part of the fabric of the society that we're in. That they're not abnormal.

CAVANAUGH: And at what grade will the new gay history lessons be introduced?

VOGEL: That's not something I'm conversant in at this point. There's going to be quite a differentiation of implementation as this goes. What we hope is that that will happen locally, and those determinations will be made locally.

CAVANAUGH: And just really quickly, if I can with you before I go to our next guest, dean, when you say that the contributions of LGBT people will be talked about in these history lessons, how will that be introduced? Will there be familiar names and kids will be told and he was gay? Or are these gonna be people that we've never heard about before?

VOGEL: I don't know that that's something that I can just say one way or the other. That's part of the conversation that has to unfold as we start dealing with the mandates of this law. What I think is most important is going to be to the degree that we involve everybody, the teachers, the stakeholders, are the administrators, the folks around the school, and even the community in making these determinations, we're gonna be better off.

CAVANAUGH: Dean Vogel is staying on the lineup with me. He's president of the California teacher's association. I'd like to welcome Randy Thomasson. He's president of save A group which opposes the new gay history law. And Randy, hello.

THOMASSON: Hello, Maureen. And hello dean Vogel.

VOGEL: Hello.

CAVANAUGH: What's wrong with teaching kids about the accomplishments of gay citizens, Randy?

THOMASSON: Well, when you look at the history, the purpose of history is to learn lessons. George Santayana, the philosopher said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That used to be written on a lot of blackboards for history students. But when you look at what's going on, where we used to say history and social studies was studying societies, government, who did good, who was successful, who was foolish, who was bad. And learning to follow good lessons on one and not repeat the bad lessons of others, now we have gone into a war about who's going to be stuck in there. And when you look at the ethnic groups, the racial and ethnic groups that are already in the existing law to be studied, obviously that's something that's inherited. You inherit your race, you inherit your ethnicity that's a put in then, "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons" that is not a fit because you cannot inherit these attributes, there's no so called gay gene. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of former homosexuals that you don't find a former black person, you don't find a former Hispanic or Asian. So it simply doesn't fit. And that's only one of the reasons that it is a bad law. The other reason is that this is not as dean Vogel said, an act to school districts, this is a man date.

CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you there. I know there are a lot of people who would disagree about what you said about the genetics involved in homosexuality, and whether or not there are people who used to be gay and who are not now. Let us though just concentrate on the fact that this is a group that has been discriminated against in history. And the fact that they are gay or have been gay has not been able to become known. What's wrong with teaching kids that?

THOMASSON: Well, when you look at what is being taught, this law requires, it's a man date upon the schools, all schools, children as young as kindergarten. And it will teach them to admire these historical or contemporary followings who are engaging in homosexuality bisexuality, transsexuality. If we were all teachers, and dean, I think you are, we would want to children to be taught the facts, not withholding information. But this law actually prohibits any negative facts about these figures to be taught. The bill actually says that you cannot "reflect adversely or promote a discriminatory bias." That's a very broad prohibition. In other words, what I have said could not be said to children, even if it is backed up by fact, which it is, and you can't even prevent information from the centers for disease control and prevention that says that homosexual and bisexual behavior results in nearly 90% of the HIV transmissions. That would not be allowed.

CAVANAUGH: Randy, I want to get dean's response. And also, dean, although Randy hadn't mentioned this, are talking about this as a parental rights issue. Parents cannot opt out of these courses for thirds requirement children. What is your response to what Randy said, and to the fact that parents can't opt out?

VOGEL: Well, I will say that the point that Randy's making here is really the fundamental difference between folks that stand on one side or the other of this issue. And I don't just mean SB48. Just the whole idea of GLBT folk having the same rights as anybody else. That's argumentive, all the way down the line. You can talk about science this or science that. Personally, what I believe is that a gay, lesbian or transgender or bisexual, these folks are who they are. Very much like I'm 57 and I have blue ideas. And I'm not really interested in engaging in that debate right now. I think the real question before us is, given the fundamental pieces of this law, what is the best way to make it happen? To make it operational? And I stand by what I said earlier. I understand that it's a man date. I understand that public schools are K-12 or K-14, or however you want to identify T. But to the degree that we can put all the stakeholders together and thankfully determine how we're going to handle this and what the curriculum materials are going to look like, we're going to be better off. If we start trying to divide ourselves along these idealogical line, like I said earlier, the fundamental differences in these two camps, we are not gonna be very well served.

CAVANAUGH: I need to move onto my last guest. But one last question for Randy if I may. Will your group be taking any action to prevent the implementation of this new law?

THOMASSON: Our organization, save is urging parents who want their parental right, who don't want half truths told to their children, who don't want false history being told, to understand that this is the eighth school sexual indoctrination law on the books. And they have still some rights. They can take their children out of the dysfunctional, imploding school system. We're encouragingly home schooling, solid church schools, private schools. They do much more academically and socially for children, and parents still have that right to rescue their children and take them away from social engineering and into good academics and good virtues that the parents approve of.

CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there, gentlemen, dean Vogel, and Randy Thomasson. Thank you very much.

THOMASSON: Thank you.

VOGEL: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And it hear how the new law will affect us here in San Diego, Lori Moiser from the San Diego office of education. She coordinates history and social science studies. And she's on the line with us now. Hi Lori.

MOISER: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: How does the San Diego County office of education gear up when there's a change like this in the curriculum.

MOISER: Well, the law was just approved last week. So it's really early. Instruction materials will need to be revised or rewritten to address the new law. And that will be up to the textbook publishers, and then the state board of education to decide whether the new materials accurately address the new law. In the meantime, we understand the intent of SB48, which is to include information and add LGBT communities to the list of existing groups whose historical contributions to our state and nation should be added to the social studies curriculum. At the county office, we intend to work closely with our school districts throughout the county to help them understand the purpose of the law, and support the youth of instructional -- use of instructional materials so that our students gain a better sense of the achievement and contributions of these people.

CAVANAUGH: Do you get any instruction or any help from the state about where to go for these instructional materials?

MOISER: Well, currently any changes or additions to instructional materials, they -- it takes time. So while the legislation as passed, it's not likely that we'll see the changes updated in our framework and standards do you wants for eye few years as you know, currently state wide budget restrictions have installed the process in social sciences through 2015. With the textbook process in flux, it will be really important for district leadership and government boards to engage in conversations with their teachers about the changes in the curriculum, engage their communities this these discussions, and make decisions about when and where the entry points into the curriculum are more relevant.

CAVANAUGH: Before the new textbooks come out, who's going to be in charge of including these new materials in -- for kids in San Diego County?

MOISER: It's gonna be up to local to governing boards to make those decisions with the county office of education. And I believe we'll work closely with our state wide networks and history based organizations to monitor the response in our region and work together to provide access to supplemental procedures in the interim.

CAVANAUGH: It happened it sounds like you got a big job ahead of you. I've been speaking with Lori Moiser of the San Diego County office of education. Thank you very much.

MOISER: Thank you, Maureen.

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Avatar for user 'jahmonkey'

jahmonkey | July 18, 2011 at 2:41 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Why???????? Our school budgets are shrinking, we lay off teachers, and we make it mandatory to teach gay history. And we cannot be critical about any gay historical figure. Unbelievable.

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Avatar for user 'sludgepickle'

sludgepickle | July 18, 2011 at 9:42 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Can anybody tell me of a great contributor in U.S. History who was OMITTED from a school text because they were L/G/B/T? Anybody?? No? That's because there hasn't been anybody. This law is a grand lie to normalize LGBT lifestyle and impose it on the rest of us. It has nothing to do with "keeping history honest" as Jerry Brown ignorantly claims.

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Avatar for user 'JohnGeorge'

JohnGeorge | July 19, 2011 at 5:22 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

"Out of the closet" is one thing. But invading our schools with "in-your face" homosexuality is another. This bill is supposed to stop bullying. But it simply changes who is bullied. Children who take a stand for Christian morality are increasingly viewed as hateful and intolerant. In fact, a major arguement of the gay community is that anything that limits thier freedom to promote homosexuality is in their words, "H8". I never thought I would see the day when morality was considered hatered! It simply shows how far down the path to self distruction our society has traveled.

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Avatar for user 'Juss_Makinsense'

Juss_Makinsense | July 19, 2011 at 9:40 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

HOMOSEXUALALITY! WoW! Going to be brainwashed/taught to out kids in school. Unbelievable!
Let's not sugar coat this folks, Gay = Homosexual acts = Men having sex with men and women having sex with women.
If consenting adults want to engage in this type of perverted behavior in the privacy of their own homes; fine, have all the freedom to do so you want. But don't teach it to our kids as if it were normal and acceptable ! ! !
How far and how much is this "Gay History" going to encompass? Is it going to include the history of Sodom and Gomorah, two cities that were destroyed because of the depraved behavior of it's citizens? Is it going to include the history of homosexual priests in the Catholic Church who prayed/preyed upon other men and young boys? ? ? Is it going to include how the AIDs epidemic was spread worldwide initially and primarily by homosexuals, etc,etc?
Hmmm, some food for thought.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 19, 2011 at 10:38 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

First three posters, thumbs up. Argued sensibly. Jest Makingnosense, thumbs down. You're the reason why the extremists on the opposite are wining the day.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 19, 2011 at 10:39 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Just wondering why the CALIFORNIA TEACHERS ASSOCI spent money to defeat Prop 8. Just wondering.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | July 19, 2011 at 10:59 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

When I was a young man, if you told me a bus load of homosexuals had gone over a cliff I would have likely said something really insensitive about it, and expressed my joy. Why? Because I grew up with religion and homosexuals were never talked about in other way other than the most vile. Fortunately I grew up, traveled a bit, got a little education, had a few more experiences with people, and today I can no longer see the justification for such irrational fear and hatred that is often displayed toward homosexuals. Homosexuals are still being attacked and killed for no other reason than being homosexual – this in 21st America is unacceptable.
Homosexuality is not a threat to you or your children, and homosexuality is only one aspect of who a person is. You can’t “catch” homosexuality, you are either homosexual or you’re not. I think a little bit of education on this could go a long way in preventing the kind of pointless violence and death that has torn apart so many lives over the years.

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Avatar for user 'sl_rock'

sl_rock | July 19, 2011 at 2:50 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

randolphslinky I find your comments to be full of holes. First, most of those who DISAGREE with any of the LGBT lifestyles do not wish them harm in fact, just the opposite! As a public school teacher I always find it interesting how we have demonized drugs, alcohol (yes I know alcohol is a drug) and tobacco because of what medicine and science has said the effects could be or what they might lead to. But when it comes to the LGBT lifestyles that same thought process and information is ignored and even laughed at. Take into consideration medical and scientific studies have shown the LGBT lifestyles lead to higher rates of depression, suicide, drug use, and STD's! Wow! It took less scientific information about nutrition to have the First lady go crazy over the lunch programs in our schools by stopping soft drink sales, and fundraising bake sales because they would lead to obese children (side effects of bad foo choices).
Back to original topic at hand...SB48 is a pathetic attempt to indoctrinate the next generation of student that any of the LGBT lifestyles are normal and to attack gender roles of male and female. SB48 is just the latest attempt to "educate" the child with "state" moral and ethics (which change hour by hour, day, and yearly...NOT THE KIND OF MORALS AND ETHICS I WANT MY CHILD TO HAVE) Again, I have strayed from the main point, HISTORY is HISTORY if someone makes a contribution worthy of note than they should be recognized good or bad!! But to include individuals for NO OTHER reason than their lifestyle choice is ludicrous!! What should we do next? Celebrate those who purchased the right car (eco car) oh we do that already, how about who voted for a certain political leader oh, we already do that too, or celebrate those who can look at the finest machine ever made and say it was a cosmic accident, we celebrate those as well....sorry...I guess this just makes sense in a long line of HISTORICAL FRAUD!!!! Nice going California, just another reason why we have become the laughing stock in US public education. Last but not least I am considering taking my 4 children out of public school unless I can fight this to some degree at the local level and I encourage all parents to consider to attend their school board meetings and let them know you are extremely displeased with the educational decisions at the state level and you WILL take you child out of their school which means less $$ for them. Tell as many parents as you can what is happening and defend your rights as the one who funds the schools in your area you will not put up with this political agenda and will fight it every step of the way. I do not care if you want to live your life as a LGBT but you WILL NOT force it down my child's throat when I am not present!!

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Avatar for user 'Daniel Beeman'

Daniel Beeman | July 19, 2011 at 7:19 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Here is the truth of the matter: Only a gay person can suggest they are gay/homosexual/LGBT, there is no history in that matter, you can not investigate it. IE, he came from Italy his parents were Italian jews. People have all types of sex with all types of peoples/animals/things, but that is not of historical nature, unless we should teach of all peoples sexual choices and that makes them beneficial to others??? Where someone was enlisted/taught/learned, country born of (ethnicity/race), where they lived, what they did, why and how can all be historically evidenced, but sexual acts are private, and should remain so. The point is mute and should not make influence. Don't force others to pay for what you think is right/history. Build your own school, museum, club etc, and invite others to come and learn, don't make it a public financial commitment. FreedomPleaseOrg

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Avatar for user 'Cbd22186'

Cbd22186 | July 19, 2011 at 10:22 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

I came on here because I listened to this story yesterday, and wanted to discuss how Randy Thomasson's statements that. . .

"You inherit your race, you inherit your ethnicity that's a put in then, "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons" that is not a fit because you cannot inherit these attributes, there's no so called gay gene. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of former homosexuals that you don't find a former black person, you don't find a former Hispanic or Asian."

This is an inconsistent comparison because while it can be determined with absolute certainty that someone cannot change their race, the same cannot truly be said for someone with regards to their sexuality. While I am certainly open to the possibility that some people MAY choose their sexuality, and can therefore change it, it is much more likely that someone feeling pressure or the desire to change their sexuality may claim falsely to have done so to satisfy either themselves or those around them.
I also find the absolute tone of his statement that there is "no gay gene" to be misleading for several reasons. Firstly, while scientists may not have discovered a particular gene linked to sexuality yet, that doesn't mean that one will not be discovered. Also, as our understanding of genetics has grown, it has become apparent that that genes interact in more complex ways than previously thought. For example, it used to be believed that eye color was a simple recessive trait, this of course has proven untrue as we now know eye color is vastly complex and linked to multiple genes spanning several chromosomes (check out the study here,
More to the point however, I'd just like to say that when we are attempting to understand historical figures, we cannot fully appreciate the person unless we can consider the whole of their being. The implication being that if their sexuality is known, then that knowledge should not be ignored, because to disregard that aspect of someone is to lie to ourselves about that person's true nature. To teach students about historical figures sexuality does not mean we are taking sides in the debate about sexual morality, we are simply teaching the true nature of the person being discussed.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | July 20, 2011 at 8:38 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

@ sl_rock - There are no "holes" in my story - it's my story, and it's the truth.
I wonder where you get your values from that you share with your children. If it's from the Bible, do you read to them those wonderful stories from the Old Testament? What a pleasant and loving god one finds there. I would much prefer my child to know that a hero also just happened to be gay rather than telling them that an angry god drowned all of his first creation, that he routinely allowed his chosen people to annihilate other tribes, that he required animal sacrifice of them, and mutilation of their son’s genitals in order to show allegiance to said god. This is typically where all the homophobia gets its start, and this is where I, as a young man got my hatred of homosexuality from. Thankfully, praise be to Odin, I grew out of it.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 20, 2011 at 10:22 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

FREEDOM PLEASE, thank you! Thank you! You said it right!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 20, 2011 at 10:40 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

@Dolphshinsky, " I grew up with religion and homosexuals were never talked about in other way other than the most vile" Well when I was a young man, Mr. , I heard all kinds of racist anti-black jokes at my school--EVEN THOUGH it was a public, secular, elementary school in Chula Vista where THERE WERE NO BLACKS.. So by Dolphs's logic, public secular schools are ALL evil. LOL

He adds: " Fortunately I grew up, traveled a bit, got a little education, had a few more experiences with people," Apparently not enough as evidenced by your anti-Muslim rants whenever there is a story on Islam.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 20, 2011 at 10:46 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Sl_rock, well not just his comments.

But my question for all the homosexual militants and their sympathisizers who helped push this bill through the CA legislature: How to interpret Hoover? Will he be a "giant" that saved the nation??? LOL Zbignew Brezinski was correct, there is a point where the kookie Right and the kookie Left merge as one.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | July 20, 2011 at 8:56 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

@issnotaccomplished - A person's race and sexual orientation is relevant in light of the fact that people have been historically judged by their race and sexual orientation regardless of their other achievements. It's a fact.

A social studies class that includes in it's education a little history on some very accomplished people who also just happened to be gay could go a long ways in stopping some of the pointless violence directed at people who happen to be gay. I think the fact that we have a president who is thought of as black, despite having one parent who was white, is proof that America has moved a long ways from where it was at one time on race. Some of that has certainly come from education, and the same needs to be done for homosexuals.

As for religion - it could be the cause for a lot of good, but I'm afraid it too often breeds hatred and violence. And one only need to open either the Bible or the Quran and you will find the justification for that hate. While religion is protected in this country, I personally find it very dangerous and disturbing that so many Americans do not seem to know just how caustic the writings of the Quran (in particular) are. It really shouldn't be so hard to understand then why so much violence comes out of this faith, and that it's not just the poor and ignorant that buy into this belief. Some of Islam's best jihadists have been educated and successful people by any country's standards.

This, and for many other reasons do I take the stand I do. And yes, I have been in several Islamic countries for extended periods of time. Been there, done that, as we used to say.

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Avatar for user 'To_Tell_you_The_truth'

To_Tell_you_The_truth | July 21, 2011 at 11 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

suggested reading:

“Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible Is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality,”

"one of the reasons the Bible is so misunderstood is that most people don’t read it for themselves.” -

Same is true for history. Read history for context. Gays and straights have made history, so it should be contextualized together. You might get some insight, which is what education is SUPPOSED to be all about! Just like RELIGION is supposed to foster compassion.

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