‘Stop SB 48′ Campaign Doesn’t Want US History Books to Tell the Truth

My first college course was History of American Women. It proved to be a powerful experience. I dug through primary sources and wrote research papers. I voted for Hillary Clinton. I cried when she conceded (for a while). I became a women’s studies minor, and then a women’s studies major. I began to seek work on various feminist topics and made contributions in my community, and internationally, to women’s rights.

This one history course changed my entire life. It inspired me, but it also bewildered me. Why had nobody mentioned these women to me before?

I want to paint rainbows inside of every textbook. I want every history lesson to be about someone like you. Because it’s impossible that American history lacks a gay person. So why not learn from them?

what if every lesson was just a little bit gayer? Or, a little more accurately representative of gay people?

This question is more important than ever in California, where SB 48, a bill requiring California public school textbooks to include the contributions of LGBT Americans, is facing opposition. The bill was signed by Governor Jerry Brown just two weeks ago, freeing countless stories that had previously been silenced and untold. The true narrative of our country. The entire epic. Starring everyone. Even someone like you.

We’ve been following SB 48 since April because it’s a huge deal. Two important notes:

+ The bill may help undo some of the damage of Texas’ pretty much opposite standpoint on textbooks. (Texas has a very conservative approach and set of standards.) The two states are the biggest textbook markets in America and, with SB 48, one of them will be inclusive of LGBT peoples.

+ Because California is the ultimate, largest, totally biggest market for textbooks, though, this bill will have a large impact on the rest of the country, period. Texas or not.

History helps us to gain a cultural and social understanding of our world. It provides us with a context for our life experiences, and it’s a guidebook for the future. What’s been done? What hasn’t? What should have happened? Why did they produce Sex and the City 2? These are important questions. History can answer many of them.

But Stop SB 48, a campaign being run by “a coalition of pro-family organizations, parents, students, teachers, and more,” is hoping to repeal the law in California, citing that SB 48 “undermines the traditional family” by forcing children to “study materials that tell them their families’ values are wrong.”

The campaign’s stance that SB 48 is “fiscally and academically irresponsible” is especially special:

+ It forces schools to review and replace their curriculum at a time when this money should be used for other purposes.

+ It requires a selective treatment of history by requiring that only events that reflect positively on people in the LGBT community may be discussed.

Basically they want to pretend that you don’t exist and never have. They want to rewrite history. Again.

Stop SB 48 is already on the web and Facebook, and has recently filed paperwork to start the petition drive for a ballot measure. If they receive 504,760 signatures, they’ll be adding a ballot measure in the upcoming elections this November.

Regardless of the rhetoric, Stop SB 48 is, of course, not actually attempting to “protect” or “preserve” our history, but to ruin it. Traditional American history textbooks have always told the story of someone else. Not me. Not people of color, not women, not queers — someone else. Not only is this alienating, it’s also wholly inaccurate — a fact I hadn’t necessarily grasped until that life-changing history course. SB 48 is important because the history of LGBT Americans is not “gay history,” it’s American history. It’s a full, uncensored, narrative of our country and the truth about who created it — at every step and in every way. I want everyone to know who raised hell, who didn’t, and who waited until the last minute.

It’s our history and it deserves to be saved.

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Carmen is the Feminism and Straddleverse Editor at Autostraddle, meaning she helps expand your mind and your queer girl clique. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 611 articles for us.

48 Comments

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    Yes, all of this. I was ecstatic when the bill passed, and I am deeply invested in seeing that it remains passed. Our stories deserve to be told and learned and included.

    What can we do? I mean, the actual bill is already passed so that’s good, but is there a counter-Stop-SB-48 petition or something?

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    I agree, this is beautifully written. Thank you. We knew they would begin with their hate agenda response, but shucks we only had 2 weeks to celebrate. I write a little column in San Francisco online site – http://www.examiner.com/conscious-living-in-san-francisco/ok-stephens – and have several articles along these lines. Response is good.
    Well let’s look at the bright side. Hopefully there are not 1/2 a million haters left in Cali. to sign this nastiness! I tweeted you too. Thanks for this! OK

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    “The campaign’s stance that SB 48 is “fiscally and academically irresponsible” is especially special:

    + It forces schools to review and replace their curriculum at a time when this money should be used for other purposes.”

    You know what else is a be waste of money – THIS FUCKING CAMPAIGN!!

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    It continues to baffle me that people would fight such a thing as inclusive history. Of course, I am not naive; there is still bigotry in this country (and everywhere), but it is a little deflating to hear there are people who avidly oppose such progressive legislation. It’s a sour reminder that despite our progress against all types of discrimination, we still have a long way to go.

    That said, I really enjoyed the article. I thought it was well done and extremely informative. And although the existence of a looming struggle saddens me, I concluded reading feeling hopeful and invigorated. Despite the fact that people are going to virulently oppose this groundbreaking law, it is the law in California, and that gives me hope for future progress.

    Thank you!

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    “SB 48 “undermines the traditional family” by forcing children to “study materials that tell them their families’ values are wrong.”
    What the fuck is this?! What about all the gay kids and kids with gay families who are constantly being told by “material” everywhere in their lives that their families’ values are wrong?

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    is there like a counter petition we can sign or something? idk, i just hate waiting around to see if the bad guys get their way.

    also i love that this has an effect on texas. someone needs to fix us, i’d love for it to be california.

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    If a historical figure did something great, wouldn’t they be recognized for what they contributed for society? And not just because they were part of a minority?

    I am 100% for equality of rights and freedom. But SB 48 to me appears like a version of affirmative action that attempts to make everyone “same” instead of “equal”.

    If a gay, disabled, or black person did something great, then let’s all celebrate it. But let it be based on their accomplishments, and not on their differences.

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      except that the point is that they haven’t been celebrated *because of* their differences.

      it’s not that people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, or any combination of those identities haven’t done great fucking things and that’s why we haven’t heard of them. it’s that by highlighting the strength and accomplishments of people from oppressed groups challenges the status quo, and that’s just too unpleasant for people in power.

      including real accomplishments by real people and a more real, inclusive version of history doesn’t make everyone the “same,” in my book, but “equal.”

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      I agree with this to some extent, but I also think that queer civil rights should at least get a paragraph in most history textbooks — and I imagine they will in the future. I would like for everyone to know about Stonewall the same way we all know about Rosa Parks, you know? I don’t think we should TEACH GAY HISTORY – but I think we should mention that politically it’s important, especially considering how often it’s in the news and a topic of debate. The fact that ‘gay marriage’ is something we’ll see debated on television but most history books probably don’t mention Stonewall, etc.

      There’s a lot of bias inherent in ANY history book, you can present events in so many different ways — and I think that even just mentioning those sorts of things helps a lot with perception and attitudes, especially in terms of qualitative ways in which we can establish queer people as a suspect class. When “these bad things happened to gay people, this legislation passed and it was important, etc” is even briefly mentioned, it’s validating…. I think providing that basis of historical facts to children and young people will do worlds to improve attitudes, decrease bullying, etc — and I don’t think it should go unmentioned.

      Another example — many books will describe the AIDS crisis in terms that are something like “it was at first limited to the african american and gay communities” (aka ‘we didn’t care cuz these weird people had it’) rather than “It had a devastating effect on the gay and african american communities, where it first surfaced. The disease claimed the lives of XYZ notable individuals, but more importantly, beyond the tragedy of these deaths, it further contributed to the stigmatization of both these groups and the disease.” That kind of stuff seems subtle but actually is enormously reflective of attitudes — and I don’t think anything that encourages people to re-think how they talk about those parts of history, especially when it’s relevant to civil rights, is all that bad.

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    I think that’s a good idea, but only insofar as it calls for people who already deserve recognition in textbooks to be included. I mean, states have a pretty strict cirriculum — in NY we had Regents, which meant we had to be taught certain topics in certain grades — so I don’t think we need to mess with that. There won’t be LGBT contributions for every subject matter. But I support making sure they aren’t excluded when relevant.

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        Well I haven’t been in high school for a while. I’m surprised Regents no longer exists. I always did sort of wonder why some topics were required but then you’d look at other parts of the textbook we never touched because they weren’t required, and it looked like interesting stuff.

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    Well I looked up the bill and I have mixed feelings. I really don’t support the notion of just saying, “You HAVE to include x-type of people in history, just because.” See my previous comment. But apparently there is already legislation requiring blacks, Latinos and Native Americans be included and there is already law specifically stating that history may not be used to disparage a race, creed, religion, gender, handicap or occupation, and they just want to add sexual orientation to that list. On that basis, I support SB48. But I hope one day we don’t need laws like this at all and we can be trusted to teach our children the shit they need to know without bias.

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    This is ridiculous. This feels like Prop 8 all over again. However, I hope this time around they fail big time. It’s only right that kids learn about LGBT history- it’s as much a part of the big picture of US History as any other minority group’s contributions to this country.
    On a different note, where can I get rainbow keys for my computer like that? Wantttttt

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    Anyone have an idea of what changes this bill will entail? Are there LGBT+ people currently left out of history books because of that fact or is it just forcing them to mention Alexander the Great and Michaelangelo’s sexuality? Either way it seems a step in the right direction.

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      I think it’s just adding in the sexualities of already-mentioned historical figures.

      Also, talking about the persecution of some very brilliant people would be good, too. I can only think of Wilde (Irish) and Turing though off the top of my head… I think Turing was American. That needs to be told because it’s absolutely horrifying what they did to him.

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        I honestly don’t see WHY we need to mention the sexuality of historical figures unless it was important to their historical contribution in some way. We can study Alexander the Great and Michaelangelo and never once mention their sexuality. It isn’t important to their historical contributions at all really. That is why I have a problem with this law. Why do we need to bring up something that isn’t important to history? If the fact that they were gay is important it should come up on it’s own, no law necessary.

        As for Wilde. I don’t think I can ever remember studying him in history class…he didn’t really make any important historical contributions…at least not big enough to be covered in the broad strokes of high school history classes. We did talk about him in literature classes and we talked about the fact that he was gay, because it was important to analyzing his literature.

        Turing was British. And his homosexuality is, once again, not important to his contributions. I can see bringing it up in a conversation about historical treatment of homosexuals or civil rights, but it’s not as if Turing wouldn’t be studied on his own if he was important to the topic being studied in a history class.

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          I disagree, it’s important to learn about historical figures who were gay because of representation. It’s a big thing to see people like you in history and it does no one any good to write out the contributions of people because they were gay or to leave out that they were gay. For example, Turing, I think his homosexuality was important because it’s partly why he killed himself and he was criminally prosecuted for it. Letting the public see that gay people have made huge contributions in history makes it so that they can’t act like everything important was done by straight people (or analogously, writing out women gives the impression that men have created everything important and that women have done nothing important in history, which is completely crap).

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          I’m going to have to disagree with you here.

          Why talk about the (homo)sexuality of historical figures? Because we already talk about the (hetero)sexuality of historical figures all the time! The history books are full of mentions of people’s wives (and husbands less often, just because women’s contributions are so often ignored) and children. My highschool’s discussions of European politics, especially, was full of endless lists of the marriage of Prince So-and-so of one country to Duchess Whatshername of another country, or King Whosit’s famous mistress, Sexypants. If we’re already talking about historical figures like Michaelangelo because his artwork marked him as different than the average Joe on the street at that time, why not mention what else marked him as different while you’re at it. And why not mention Alexander the Great’s bisexuality? Talking about the Macedonian attitudes toward that help paint a fuller picture of what that culture was like at the time, and isn’t the point of studying history to know what things were like in different times and places?

          As for Oscar Wilde, how can you talk about his literature without talking about his sexuality? It’s such an integral part of what he wrote and why. And his literature is part of what caused him great legal trouble later on! Furthermore, he wrote things in prison which are quite important as well. And I can’t speak for your literature class, obviously, but mine always included discussions of the author’s personal lives and the cultures they lived in. No writing is created in a vacuum and how can you understand what a story is about and what the writer is trying to convey with it if you don’t understand the context in which it was written?

          I disagree that homosexuality is not important to Turing’s contributions. Actually, it’s important to the LACK of contributions he could have made. His conviction for homosexuality led to them removing his security clearance and ending his cryptography consulting. An important part of understanding history is understanding how different movements in society interact and influence each other, at least partly so we can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Turing made invaluable contributions, but was prevented from making more because of Cold War hysteria and institutionalized homophobia (both things that are already known as important and powerful elements of that era).

          I think those things are important enough reasons for including mentions of homosexuality in text books, and that’s before we get into the whole “when kids know that other homos exist and sometimes do great things, they’re less likely to kill themselves” thing.

          Acknowledging homosexualy is not the same as “flaunting” it, and even if it was I don’t see what the big goddamn deal is.

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          I feel like there’s a lot of internalized homophobia happening here in the comments.

          We don’t need to keep our history in the closet.

          Yes, there is more to ourselves than our sexuality, but if queerness is ever going to stop being stigmatized, we need to keep saying out loud who we are. Same goes for people in history who accomplished great things and were also queer.

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        I don’t think that’s what it does. It specifically says history books must include contributions from LGBT people. So if no one gay is in the history books, they will add some. I think they should just cover the gay rights movement briefly. Mentioning someone’s sexuality would just come off weird and clunky since it probably isn’t relevant to what they did.

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    The SB 48 is like a Domino effect. Even in my state of New Jersey, my GLSEN Team is working/researching on making a LGBT inclusive lesson plan. However, my team needs a lot of help into making this happen in the great state of NJ. My team is trying to find people in Cali who worked/helped/researched/involved in the bill. Anyone here who worked on SB48 please contact me or give me a pm and help us make this happen! HELP!

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    Support SB 48 and watch 9 million California children lose their innocence, get gender confusion, and not know the harmful effects of gay sex. Oh and here’s something even better: while the kids are learning about gay/lesbian/transcended lifestyle, the other kids around the globe are learning about math and science, preparing to make themselves useful to society. And parents aren’t even allowed to have a say! When did politicians become our children’s educators?

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      Utterly, utterly pathetic attack. Let’s count the failures, shall we?

      1. “watch 9 million California children lose their innocence”

      Because to be innocent means to be completely ignorant of minority groups?

      2. “get gender confusion”

      Because letting pupils know that, for example, Oscar Wilde was gay is going to make them all suddenly think they need a sex-change?

      3. “and not know the harmful effects of gay sex”

      Because history lessons are exactly the place to talk about modern day sexual health, and they already instruct you on proper condom use when talking about heterosexual historical figures known to have contracted syphillis and other STIs?

      4. “while the kids are learning about gay/lesbian/transcended lifestyle, the other kids around the globe are learning about math and science, preparing to make themselves useful to society”

      Because adjusting the curriculum for history lessons suddenly means that maths and science lessons are eliminated from the school?

      5. “And parents aren’t even allowed to have a say! When did politicians become our children’s educators?”

      Because parents have always defined school curriculums, and not politicians/education boards set up for those purposes? Y’know, like when they successfully threw out teaching the theory of evolution in the heavily creationist areas of the USA? (See: Scopes Trial.) And how nowadays any parents who have a severe prejudice against a particular race/religion/minority of any stripe can demand that their child’s school change the curriculum in line with their prejudice?

      The usual bigot tactic of throwing out statements without a shred of factual evidence to back them up and hoping that everyone listening to you is too stupid to do some basic research, or indeed think about what you’re saying for more than half a second. Like I said earlier; pathetic.

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      You’re right. We do teach children math and science here in Sweden. Do you know what else we teach them?

      SEX. SEXUAL EDUCATION. WE’VE HAD IT SINCE 1956! STARTING FROM THE AGES 7-10! EVERY KIND OF SEX YOU CAN IMAGINE INCLUDING HOMOGAY SEX! OH WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

      You would fucking hate it here. And I love that about my country.

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        i am curious about swedish sex ed, here in america my sex ed was ‘marriage is between a man and a woman, do not have sex until you are married or you will PROBABLY ROT AND DIE, this is a condom IT DOES NOT WORK, girls you should know that boys are going to try to stick their penis in you DO NOT LET THEM THEY DO NOT KNOW ANY BETTER boys do your thing’

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    Things are still a little strained between California and I (things were awesome for a while, then prop 8… it’s been up and down since then so I up and moved to Seattle but there are definitely lingering feelings there). This is stressful to me. Thanks for the great reporting though! A+

    Also, I wish that keyboard were mine.

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    Wait, you mean there are gay people that did other important stuff other than host tv shows, become rockstars, and riot at stonewall?

    …And black people have done and have continued to do important things OUTSIDE of the civil rights movement….

    HOLY SHIT.

    >.>

  16. Pingback: THE MOST CAKE » Blog Archive » The Week in Gay: LGBT history in schools, Italy really sucks this week, and India recognises a gay marriage

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    Why compare homosexuality with being black? A lifestyle is not the same as race. I have heard of people like Gertrude Stein,Oscar Wilde. Why is their sexuality so important? My problem with sb48 is that parents can’t opt out. Why aren’t religious beliefs important? You can’t pray in school or even mention Jesus,but it is so important that we teach how wonderful an alternative lifestyle is. I have no problem with gay people,but when you want to indoctrinate children I have a serious problem with that. I know I will be called a bigot,a hater,a homophobe-so be it.

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      I think it’s important to note that being gay isn’t a “lifestyle”. It’s not as if being attracted to the same-sex changes anything about your life except for whom you love. My lifestyle would be the same whether I’m with a man or a woman, so to imply otherwise is quite offensive.

      Also, why is “religious belief” so much more important to uphold than acceptance and tolerance? If a parent opts out of teaching their child to accept others and be kind and loving to their neighbours because it runs against their Christian belief, I think they’re being terrible Christians. Jesus may not be mentioned in schools, but his principles are being taught with sb48, so how can you opt out of tolerance if you’re concerned about “indoctrinating children”? Why don’t we learn to remove the bigotry from Christianity and get back to the basics of the religion itself instead?

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    There is no bigotry in Christianity. Jesus is about love. He also said to go and sin no more. So,yes, in the bible homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is not a ‘principle’ of Jesus. You want your ‘lifestyle’ to be accepted so you want to pervert the bible. It is not about tolerance,it’s about indoctrination. Why do young children need to know about someones sexuality. My children will never mistreat anyone for any reason. But they should not have to learn about a persons sexual behavior. You have no idea of what Christianity is about.

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