The state of California is one step closer to achieving equity in education for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, after a bill introduced to the state legislature by openly gay state Senator Sheila Kuehl was passed by the Senate. Current anti-discrimination laws include protections for students based on race, sex, disability, and religion. California State Senate Bill 1437 (SB 1437) would amend the law to include categories of sexual orientation and gender to existing criteria used to create courses of study designed to promote diversity in the public school curriculum. In addition, SB 1437 would prohibit the inclusion of official teaching materials that reflect adversely on people because of their sexual orientation or gender.
Research by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Net demonstrates that harassment based on sexual orientation causes an increase in suicide rates and truancy in LGBT students. Kuehl’s office notes that most perpetrators of hate crimes believe they are not breaking any social norms by attacking those they perceive to be lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual. Inclusion of LGBT contributions to the larger curriculum can then create a safer environment for students by increasing awareness of issues among peers: A study by the National Center for Lesbian Rights found that 67 percent of students in a study who were taught LGBT issues in the curriculum felt safer at school.
If the bill passes, curriculum may include such items as the 1978 assassination of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk or the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York. Initially introduced on February 22, the bill passed in the Senate earlier this month and currently awaits a hearing in the State Assembly in the coming weeks, followed by consideration by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.