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California Becomes First State With LGBTQ History Guidelines

California's public school students will begin learning about gay historical figures and about key moments in history involving LGBTQ people and rights now that the state's board of education approved these and other changes as part of a new social science and history framework for K-12 schools.

California last reviewed its history curriculum in 2006. The inclusion of LGBTQ history was discussed then, but did not become codified until 2011, when the state passed a first-of-its-kind law requiring the subject to be taught. That law added LGBTQ people to the list of categories of men and women whose contributions to California and U.S. history students are required to study, which also includes Native Americans, European Americans, and Mexican Americans. Schools and the state are also prohibited from adopting materials that reflect adversely on those categories of people.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement that the new framework "will give our students access to the latest historical research and help them learn about the diversity of our state and the contributions of people and groups who may not have received the appropriate recognition in the past."

Last year, Kevin Jennings, the founder of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, told Education Week in an interview that it was critical for California to provide curricular resources to teachers in order to turn the 2011 law into a reality. "The average textbook used in America has next to no—if any at all—mention of LGBT material," he said. "The average teacher-training program does nothing to prepare teachers to address LGBT material."

He said he had not heard of other states replicating California's move. "We are not at the level right now, sadly, of talking about how we incorporate LGBT material. We're at the level where we're trying to pass basic protections for people," he said.

The Associated Press lays out some of the changes on the table: 

In 2nd grade, California students will learn about families with two moms or two dads. Two years later, while studying how immigrants have shaped the Golden State, they will hear how New York native Harvey Milk became a pioneering gay politician in San Francisco.

Despite the 2011 law, such propositions are not uncontroversial in the state. The 2006 proposal was greeted with concerns that passing the law would open the door for more "special interest groups" to influence school curriculum. Some groups in the state sought to repeal the 2011 law, calling it poor public policy.  And at a local level, a student-led in one middle school to teach about LGBTQ issues during a special week raised red flags among some parents just this spring. Parents said the topics were inappropriate and that LGBTQ issues were receiving a disproportionate amount of attention compared to other groups in the community. 

This year's curriculum review sparked another debate that also came up in 2006 related to the portrayal of Hinduism and India. It also comes at a time when California is considering requiring the state to draft a model curriculum for ethnic studies groups.


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