Public hearing discusses LGBT representation in California history textbooks

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups met Thursday with the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education, to discuss the LGBT textbook curriculum mandated in California.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups met Thursday with the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education, to discuss the LGBT textbook curriculum mandated in California.

In 2011, California became the first state to require schools to include the historical contributions of the LGBT community to the country and state in their programs. The law -- which also specifically requires the inclusion of people with disabilities and cultural groups, such as Native Americans and Mexican Americans -- came into place as the nation saw a spike in gay youth suicides. 

Gay rights organizations such as Equality California and Our Family Coalition rejected all but two of 12 elementary and middle school textbooks if edits were not made. These gay rights advocacy groups worked with the state on a history and social science framework, which they claim the textbooks are failing to meet.

The age-appropriate framework aims to reduce bullying and boosts the academic environment and graduation rates, according to Jason Howe, spokesperson for Equality California.

Advocacy groups believe the majority of the textbooks ignore the FAIR Education Act, which ensures California K-12 schools provide fair and accurate representations of people with disabilities, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in history and social studies curriculum.

Some of the textbooks make mention of famous LGBT figures such as TV host, Ellen Degeneres, and pioneering astronaut, Sally Ride, but don't explain what their historical contributions are to the LGBT community, said Howe.

One of the elementary school textbooks features a picture of two male figures as a unit, amongst other pictures of varying family structures, but doesn't further explain how a same-sex home is also a family, according to Howe.

The activist groups graded the 12 textbook programs on an "A" to "F" scale, and completely rejected two of the books, approved another two, and asked for edits with the remaining textbooks in question.

Kristina Massari, spokesperson for National Geographic Learning, the publisher behind one of the textbooks rejected by gay rights groups, told ABC10 the company was working closely with LGBT coalitions to come to an agreement on the content in the textbooks.

During Thursday's public meeting, the commission voted on incorporating all of the recommendations for changes by LGBT advocacy groups in 10 of the 12 textbooks, including the two books initially rejected by advocacy groups.

The two books not recommended are by publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Advocacy groups had initially asked for edits on both. 

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for the publisher told ABC10 in an email:

"HMH has been collaborating closely with LGBT rights groups, as well as other advocacy organizations, to ensure that our social studies content reflects the goals of their important efforts."

The Instructional Quality Commission can only make recommendations on textbook material. The final approval decision will be made in November by the State Board of Education.

While the the language in textbooks about the LGBT community remains controversial in the U.S., activist groups such as Equality California stress the importance of inclusion.

"LGBTQ people exist." Howe said. "This is just an age-appropriate way of letting people know, LGBTQ people exist and let them know about their contributions."

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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