Emily Dorian didn’t come out of the closet willingly during her sophomore year at Pioneer High School—she was forced out. After confiding to someone she thought was a friend, word began to spread around campus, and Dorian was left with few options. As more and more students learned of her secret, Dorian says classmates started coming to her confused and sometimes even angry.

“When I was outed, I wasn’t ready to come out,” she says. “Everyone was just like, ‘Why are you gay, and why are you this and why are you that?’ I didn’t know why people were so mean about it. It was just who I was.”

Realizing that awareness was the first step to acceptance, Dorian created a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at Pioneer. While her own admission was stunning enough to fellow students, Dorian says she was shocked by the even greater opposition she encountered over the club.

“This one guy was like, ‘This is completely wrong. You shouldn’t have this in schools,’” Dorian says.

Going around the table at a recent club meeting, Dorian’s story is echoed by more than a dozen other students. Raphael Joseph, a freshman at Pioneer, says one of the more common forms of bigotry—people saying, “That’s so gay”—bothers him the most. “When you talk like that, it creates an atmosphere around a school and around a community that makes it difficult for gay people to come out,” he says.

But at this GSA meeting, it’s clear that many of the members, including Dorian, who is now a senior and president of the club, are comfortable in their own skin. It wasn’t easy, though “The whole experience of being open with your sexuality is hard enough,” Dorian says. “It’s hard because you know that if these certain people were just educated a little bit more, then they wouldn’t say these things.”

That’s the hope of Senate Bill 48, commonly known as the FAIR Education Act. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1,  requires that the historical contributions of certain minorities—specifically LGBT—be included in the public school curriculum. State Sen. Mark Leno (DSan Francisco) authored the bill, which hopes to ensure the historical contributions of LGBT members are accurately portrayed in instructional materials.

Due to budget constraints, new textbooks detailing underrepresented groups are set for distribution in the 201516 school year. In the meantime, school districts have the option of adopting supplemental materials pending reviews of the educational content.

Several opposition groups, including the Christian Coalition, Traditional Values Coalition, Protect Kids Foundation and Family Research Council, have filed initiatives to repeal SB48. The state’s Attorney General’s office has reportedly received five initiatives in total.

Proponents of Stop SB48, an anti-implementation group, argue that the legislation does nothing to reduce bullying, improve the state of education or ensure that students graduate. The Protect Kids Foundation released a statement that the bill would “sexualize” students while also transforming them into radical political advocates for LGBT issues.

Leaving aside some of the more hyperbolic rhetoric, the group raised an interesting point about how the bill classifies LGBT.

“This legislation would also create a social class for homosexuals, transsexuals and bisexuals,” the foundation writes. “They would be regarded the same as Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, Asians, etc.”

Ronald Schmidt, a retired middle school teacher in Morgan Hill who co-founded the Bay Area Network for Gay and Lesbian Educators (BANGLE), says that that is the point.

“For me, there is no difference,” Schmidt says. “It’s exactly the same,” However, in several school district meetings where Schmidt conducted outreach work for the LGBT community, he was challenged by African American parents who took offense with the association.

“Obviously, lots of African American LGBT understand,” Schmidt sighs, “but not everybody does.”


Famous Names

Joe Di Salvo, board president for Santa Clara County Office of Education, takes bullying and discrimination in schools so seriously that he listed SB48 as an agenda item for a Dec. 14 meeting—his last as president.

“My personal view is that children need the truth,” Di Salvo says. “There are issues where children don’t understand, particularly in the world of LGBT, how impactful certain LGBT people have been in the history of the United States. Representing that truthfully is important for children, particularly those in middle school and high school who are dealing with their sexual identity.”

Meanwhile, the national Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which sponsors nationwide youth organizations like Pioneer’s, is taking steps to help schools implement FAIR education act material. The network created tool kits, which consist of a fact sheet and resource guide, for teachers and school administrators to work into their curriculum. There are also tool kits for students who want to lobby their teachers to start incorporating the material.

Schmidt, like Di Salvo, says all students will benefit from having a more complete picture of the historical figures they study.

“It’s important that students realize this was a lesbian poet or this was a gay artist,” Schmidt explains. “Michelangelo, da Vinci, Walt Whitman—all of these individuals are important to identify with.”

Jackie Zeller, director of curriculum and instruction for secondary schools in the San Jose Unified School District, says she and a committee of teachers will gather in January to address the new law and how to seamlessly integrate lesson plans.

“It isn’t necessarily going to be a stand-alone unit, it might be a day devoted to it,” Zeller says. “But it will be infused throughout the 6-12 social studies curriculum.”

While the bill’s language pertains to the K-12 education system, Zeller says elementary schools spend less time on social studies and more on language arts and math. At these levels, she says, little curriculum regarding LGBT would be implemented.

That’s fine, according to SB48 advocates, who say the law was designed with adolescents and young adults in mind, such as Dorian and her classmates.

“In a picture-perfect world, I think it is important to stress that [people] were gay, because I don’t want them to beat around the bush,” Dorian says. “You don’t need to be dramatic about it—just make it a lesson about a historical figure.”