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    LGBT History Is Worth Noting

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    When California students learn about civil rights, in addition to studying Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s “I Have a Dream” speech and discussing Cesar Chavez’s championing of farm worker’s rights, students will also learn about the country’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, and his work for LGBT rights.

    Just six years ago, students learning about historical LGBT figures was a dream that had yet to be realized. But that all changed in 2011 after former Senator Mark Leno passed Senate Bill (SB) 48, The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which requires that state public schools include the contributions of LGBT people and people with disabilities in textbooks.

    Due to the State Board of Education’s extensive process for selecting textbooks, California last month finally adopted ten textbooks for K–8 classrooms that follow the requirements under SB 48. For years, the contributions of the LGBT community remained hidden in the shadows. Among those covered in these new history and social science textbooks are: 

    • Sally Ride, the first American woman and gay person in space who later encouraged girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and who lived with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, the executive director of Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego;
    • Ellen DeGeneres, beloved Emmy-award winning television host and comedian who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, who came out on national television in 1997; and
    • “One-Eyed Charley” Parkhurst, a bandit-shooting stagecoach driver between San Jose and Santa Cruz who was revealed to be born a woman upon his death, and incidentally was the first woman in America to vote in 1868, decades before the 19th

    The inclusion of LGBT individuals who made great contributions to our state and country’s history, economy, and culture is a further mark of how far we’ve come. 

    Critics have argued that it’s inappropriate for teachers to discuss the romantic partners of historical figures like Sally Ride or Harvey Milk, but it is crucial that we show students that any person, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, is valuable and can make phenomenal contributions to our society.

    While the LGBT community has made a lot of progress in recent years, the fact remains that more than half of LGBTQ students have felt unsafe at school, according to the 2013 Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) National School Climate Survey. The Center for Disease Control found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are nearly five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.

    At the forefront of making students feel safe at school and preventing LGBT youth suicide is combating bullying. It has become critical for us to teach our students that LGBTQ people are individuals who deserve the same respect to which we are all entitled. Updating our textbooks to reflect those values is a major step forward to achieve this goal.

    Including LGBT history as a part of school curriculum will help California students learn that LGBT people have always been valued members of our society and are also people who have made considerable strides and improvements to the world we live in. A safer, more accepting environment in our schools can help facilitate discussions about how LGBT people have, for many years, lived in the shadows and, as a result, allow our students to live free and open lives with the acceptance that they deserve.

    Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, Daly City, and parts of South San Francisco.