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Equal Opportunity Education

Equal Opportunity Education

It sounds like it could be a hysterical Sean Hannity talking point: They're going to be teaching our kids about gays in school. But California's proposed Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, which would add historical contributions of LGBT people to public school curricula, will stand up against right-wing scrutiny, according to the bill's sponsor, state senator Mark Leno.

"It's such a sound argument -- this is history," says Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, adding that the bill would also add disabled people, along with gays, to a list of underrepresented groups that must be discussed in California's schools. "How can you deny, pretend, or censor this history? It's fact. You may not like it, but that's not the point."

The bill just passed the state assembly on Tuesday with a 49-25 vote, and it already cleared the state Senate in April. It now heads to Jerry Brown's desk, though it's not clear where the governor stands on the legislation. If it is signed, an arduous process must play out before high school students are learning about Harvey Milk and Elaine Noble. A statewide committee will draft a framework for the new curriculum and solicit public comment on it, and the State Board of Education and local school districts will make sure that textbooks include events like Stonewall and 1979's March on Washington.

"Only during the regular process of the editing of our textbooks will this change occur," Leno says. "It's a very long process that will take four to five years."

Los Angeles and San Francisco schools already include some LGBT-related lessons. Should the FAIR Act become law, Leno assumes other districts will look to these cities when they're crafting their own gay history curricula. There will be resistance, Leno assumes, but he notes there was blowback when public universities started adding African-American and women's studies in the 1970s. No matter what conservative parents or pundits have to say, Leno says FAIR is worth fighting for.

"This bill is in response to the tragedy of bullying and the resulting suicides," he says. "Do we provide or deny information to students so that they better understand the broad diversity of the human experience?"

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