CA Gov Signs LGBT School Textbook Bill, Making California Textbooks Opposite of Texas Textbooks

getty images model reading a book about gay people (probably)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law today SB 48, the controversial bill which will require California’s public school textbooks to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. This is a big deal that we’ve been discussing for a while now as we’d all like to imagine a world where everyday Americans know more about gay history than what was covered in Milk. It’s an even bigger deal because, as we talked about last week, California makes up 13% of the textbook market which is the largest market share of any individual state. Does this mean that “as goes California, so goes the nation?” Maybe. More on that in a minute.

Governor Jerry Brown‘s statement on the historic bill:

“History should be honest. This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Sen. Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

Mark Leno, the Senator who introduced the bill, had this to say about it:

This will benefit all students by better informing them of the civil rights movement of the LGBT community. Denying them the fact of this historical chapter denies students a better understanding of their fellow classmates who may be a part of this community.”

This is hardly the first measure passed to require inclusion of minority groups in public school textbooks. The SF Gate reports: “By signing the measure, the governor adds LGBT Americans, along with disabled Americans and Pacific Islanders, to an existing list of groups that must be included in social studies instruction.”

However, the inclusion of disabled Americans and Pacific Islanders represents really only a fraction of the numerous diversity requirements imposed upon textbook manufacturers, at least in California.

See, on the other end of the ideological spectrum we have Texas, the second-largest textbook market after California. In March 2010, the Texas Board of Education “approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.”

Renowned educator Diane Ravitch wrote in The Daily Beast following that decision in Texas:

Given the strong conservative hold on the elected state board in Texas, it is not surprising that the board demands that its textbooks are patriotic and respectful of religion. Given the strong liberal character of California politics, it is not surprising that its state guidelines demand equal time and respectful representation of gender groups, ethnic and racial groups, and all minorities.

In 2006, The Wall Street Journal did a feature story about the guidelines for diversity in textbook imagery, which framed these requirements as reflecting “censorship” and “political correctness gone awry”:

McGraw-Hill’s guidelines for elementary and high school texts require the following: 40% of people depicted should be white, 30% Hispanic, 20% African-American, 7% Asian and 3% Native American. Of that total, 5% should be disabled and 5% over the age of 55. The Harcourt Education unit of Reed Elsevier PLC requires its elementary textbooks to include about 50% whites, 22% African-Americans, 20% Hispanics, 5% Asians and 5% Native Americans as well as 3% disabled.

The Journal also concluded that “the purchasing decisions of these major customers (California, Texas and Florida) can make or break a textbook. California, which is 35% Hispanic, is the nation’s biggest market and its adoption process sets the pace for the country.”

These liberally-associated “political correct” mandates have drawn their fair share of criticism (issues around Muslim representation in school textbooks, for example, have been particularly heated), some warranted and some not.

Back in 2003, many critics were already up in arms about new standards of political correctness for textbooks which allegedly prohibited things like depicting African-Americans as story villains, American Indians with long braids, men as lawyers/doctors or women as doing household chores. At that time, Sue Stickel, the deputy superindendent for curriculum and instruction at the California Department of Education said:

“I think our textbooks should, to our greatest capacity, be free of any type of stereotyping. We need to make sure that all ethnicities are represented. We need to make sure that both males and females are represented. We need to make sure that our materials cover the full gamut.”

Despite cries of censorship, Fox reported that “textbook publishers admit they are in a bind. They say if they don’t adopt the changes made by large states like California and Texas, they would suffer severe economic consequences.”

So which way will the country go? Will California set the new standard, or Texas?

Both initiatives are ostensibly pursuing the same standard – ensuring that the material our children learn about the world from represents The Truth About America. The real issue here is of course, as always, that no one can agree on what that truth is. It seems safe to guess that to the people involved in textbook curriculum in the state of Texas, the most “honest” history of America really is one of patriotic values and Christian principles bringing democracy into the world, and that the alternate story about our nation’s founding that includes imperialism and genocide just isn’t the way it happened. They want their kids to learn the real deal, not a “fabricated PC version” – which is what this bill in California really does seem like to them. That’s why opponents have called the bill “absurd” and “indoctrination” and claimed it’s an attempt to lure children towards homosexuality – because when you truly don’t believe this version of history is real, there doesn’t appear to be another explanation.

And that’s what the big deal is – for most of our nation’s history, that stance was virtually unanimous. It’s huge that gay kids will finally be able to see that they have a lot of incredible predecessors, and that straight kids will learn that gay people both exist and are deserving of respect.

But it’s also huge that there are people who have worked to make this happen – who have stood up to say that this is the truth about our nation, that gay people and their contributions to our culture are part of the real America, and that it’s important to acknowledge it. It reflects a shift that’s about more than just educational policy; it means that people are now seeing something that for most of history they fought to avoid having to look at, and that something is us.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. ugh. I’d like to point out this if this was to ever happen in my (texas) textbook, they would push it so fucking far in the back we would never get to it. We never got past WWII in our history classes, which sucked because I wanted to learn more about recent shit.

    I blame it on the TAKS test, it only really covered up til then on the history portion. I wonder if california has standardized testing, and if this will be a portion of it? Because if their tests are anything like ours, the teachers will just cover the stuff that the tests deem necessary, and skip the rest. Doesn’t make for a good learning experience.

    But congrats california :) At least one state is trying to do things right. And I hope this means ya’ll will get marriage back too :)

    • also i would like to point out that my state was one of the ones that thought about how creationism should fit into the science books. (my answer: not at freakin all) and I remember a bunch of kids boycotted (and failed) the parts of science that they felt should include that. I remember one girl crying because she failed, and that she thought it was “discrimination of her beliefs”

      I wanted to punch her. In my town, christians run everything. It was nice to have a section of my life that made sense, and I was glad to not have religion shoved down my throat. I understand that she had her beliefs, but I thought that at the very least she should learn other ideas, which is how I viewed religion. Especially when your grade is on the line.

      Idk I have a problem where I can see everyone’s point of view. But science is science, and not religion. You know?

      • “But science is science, and not religion. You know?” SO TRUE

        but yeah, also: religion is opinion, and no one should ever teach opinion. that is something you have to form yourself with input from sources you trust, ie parents, some teachers, some friends, whatever. that’s one of the main problems i think, is that people think children need to be taught their (said people’s) ideas and never allowed to form their (the children) own.

  2. Oh, that’s awesome breakthrough. Congratulation

    the most similar to that in Venezuela, are some rumors about the relationship between Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre. But that’s it

  3. Jeez, reading this it occurred to me for the FIRST TIME that I should try to figure out LGBT people to put on my syllabus. I’m majorly disturbed that this never occurred to me before. Argh. Particularly since I do make an effort re: gender and racial diversity. In the meantime, I might just have to make up some LGBT bios for a few of the folks who are on the syllabus, ha.

    • i think it’s hard to even conceptualize — I grew up in one of the most liberal towns in the entire country and then went to a liberal boarding school for the arts where like one-third of the student body was gay and ultimately honestly I can’t remember one time learning something about gay history or a gay person. I honestly actually didn’t know anything about Harvey Milk until I saw Milk. I can’t even imagine the kind of impact this will have on kids, considering we harped on diversity like crazy but never considered THIS kind of diversity.

      • For sure. I didn’t know anything about Harvey Milk before the movie either. I also didn’t have any gay history/ awareness of gay people growing up, although I went to a high school where there was a confederate flag hanging on the wall and we spent a full year of history studying the civil war, so it wasn’t exactly a place super appreciative of diversity in general. It is hard to imagine the impact.

      • Yeah, and also, thanks for getting me thinking about this. I’m totally determined to figure out a way to get at least one gay person in the class I’m teaching now.

      • I only learned about queer historical figures like Harvey Milk because I took queer studies in college.

  4. I have a funny memory. I clearly recall studying a bio of Billie Jean King in third grade. Of course there was no mention that she was gay. I found that out later in high school.

    I had a really tough time in my social studies class in high school. Gays in the military was a topic because it was at the time DADT was passed. It’s tough being put in a position to debate gay rights when you’re still in the confusion stage. I can only hope teachers are trained in how to hold a classroom discussion on gay history. Because my teacher allowed slurs to run rampant.

    But that all led me to research gay history outside of class, which helped me cope with a lot of shit. It made me feel like I had a community across time and space, even if there wasn’t one where I lived. I ended up doing my last paper on Bessie Smith, which I had to present to the class…and then answer the question from one classmate “Was she a dyke?”

  5. California was already the opposite of Texas in about 50 bajillion ways, so just add this one to the list, haha

  6. I remember once talking to a teacher who wanted to have a lesson on important people in the history of computing, and when I recommended Alan Turing, he said he couldn’t talk about him in his class because Turing was gay and he would get in trouble.

    If you don’t know who Alan Turing is, he’s the guy who pretty much cracked the German codes during WWII and is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. But apparently you can’t talk about him in school for fear of the kids finding out he was prosecuted by the British government after the war for being gay.

    • All schoolkids should learn about Alan Turing and also about the way his own country treated him for being gay despite being a war hero

  7. Listen Texas, if you can’t teach about queer people than you can’t teach about Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, Oscar Wilde, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Edward Albee, Hart Crane, EM Forster, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gertrude Stein, Truman Capote, Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Thornton Wilder, WH Auden, Emily Dickinson, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and probably most of the ancient Greek and Roman writer dudes.

    AND THAT’S JUST BRITISH and AMERICAN *WRITERS*. Good luck with those AP English tests…or with getting any sort of education really…

  8. can i apologize on behalf of my entire state? because i constantly feel like i need to be like “RICK PERRY IS A DICK AND IT’S MY FAULT BECAUSE I’M FROM TEXAS”
    SORRY GUIZ. we’re working on it.

  9. This is great. :D Maybe my a-holes in my school will actually learn that members of the LGBT community did something to benefit this nation. Having LGBT history in our textbooks will help to cure the ignorance of many. I hope my state follows California’s lead. But then again, I live in Georgia. Then again, we have the city called the gay meca of the southeast. So who knows.

  10. Awesome! I’m glad some states in the U.S are trying to do the right thing. I agree with the above comment that teachers will probably find a way to push it to the “not covered” material for the year.
    As a Canadian, it makes me wonder if we have anything like this going on. I got most of my LGBT knowledge from university and just being involved in the community.

    Good step in the right direction Cali, now let’s get other states on board too! :)

    *first time commenter, long time reader :)

Comments are closed.