From New Jersey to California, parents are protesting LGBTQ-inclusive education. Based on the incredible reaction, one might think this includes sex education; rather, the legislation simply asks that curricula identify and recognize LGBTQ folks throughout history.
California passed the FAIR Education Act in 2011 “to ensure the contributions of members of underrepresented racial, ethnic and cultural groups . . . are included in history and social-studies lessons.”
Early in 2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed legislation that requires “each board of education to provide instruction on the political, economic and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum.”
While the New Jersey law specifies that the education include middle- and high-school students, the law in California includes elementary curriculum, and it’s parents of elementary students who are currently protesting.
On May 2, trustees for Rocklin Unified School District approved new LGBTQ-inclusive K-5 curricula that would include teaching about historical figures such as Sally Ride, who was the first female and first lesbian American astronaut. Members of the conservative right are arguing that children do not have the ability to contemplate sexuality at a young age and that the education disregards the conservative and religious worldview. The Pacific Justice Institute sent letters to the Senate using religious freedom as grounds for objecting to the bill. On May 3, parents held home an estimated 700 students from California’s public-school system.
In New Jersey, similarly, those in opposition to the new law are rallying around religious freedom and threatening lawsuits. Repetitive conservative-right arguments are being offered regarding attacks to conservative Christian values and the immorality of homosexuality.
As ever, these protests seem to be fueled by bigotry. The legislation in both California and New Jersey attempts to dismantle some of the bullying LGBTQ students face in their educational institutions by simply being honest about the United States’ history and those LGBTQ persons who spurred our economy and drove forward social justice.
Neither bill requires an explicit examination of these figures’ personal lives, only that their sexual orientation is acknowledged so that all citizens can see themselves in our history. To be opposed to factual education is not new for the conservative right, who have consistently fought against science in schools. But, at what point will we stop listening to the cries of “religious freedom?”
If religious freedom operated in the way these groups seem to think it does, then perhaps we shouldn’t educate our students on Protestantism and the early break from the Catholic Church because then, those of other religions may feel attacked.
As an LGBTQ community, we are not rewriting history, only asking for factual and historical representation. And even so, New Jersey and California are the only two states passing legislation that requires our representation at all.