By Katelyn Jacobson
In February 2008, State Assemblyman Bob Huff proposed two bills, Assembly Bill (AB) 2085 and 2086, aimed at amending gay rights and sex education in K-12 schools.
AB 2085 was a reversal of Senate Bill (SB) 777. SB 777 currently prohibits discrimination against transgendered students and bars instruction or use of any instructional materials in public schools that reflect adversely upon people based on their sexual orientation or gender. AB 2086 intended to give parents more control over what material their children learned in school, requiring that California public schools notify parents upon “proposed discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation” outside of comprehensive sexual education class. The bill also included provisions for parents to remove their student from class at those times.
The bills were rejected 6–3 along party lines on April 2, but the signature-collecting campaign Save Our Kids seeks to place a referendum of SB 777 on the ballot. While the measures have not passed, their potential to return has caused discomfort among the LGTB community, especially in light of student Larry King’s death last month in Oxnard.
Larry King was shot in his middle school’s computer lab by a classmate, 14, who had often harassed King. King often wore makeup and jewelry to school and was openly gay. The provisions of SB 777 failed to prevent his death.
Santa Cruz’s Merrie Schaller, the co-chair of the Santa Cruz LGBT Alliance, pointed to the necessity of academic protection of LGBT students.
“The case of Larry King is a perfect example of what can happen when the powers-that-be in a school don’t support queer kids,” Schaller said. “The fact that teachers and administrators knew that he was being harassed on a daily basis and did nothing to prevent it demonstrates as nothing else can the need for SB 777, for GSAs and for diversity training.”
The first formal sex education instruction a child receives takes place in the fourth or fifth grade. It does not cover LGBT sexual issues, but Santa Cruz students at this age learn about different types of families, including same-sex parents.
“The focus is on the different families that kids are in, as opposed to decisions that adults make about sexuality,” said Dan Cavanaugh, principal of Bayview Elementary. “Our job is to give students information.”
Cavanaugh cited religious beliefs and values behind parental choices of pulling children from discussions of LGBT issues, and stressed that under California law parents have the right to make that choice and choose either to teach their student themselves — or not at all.
“It’s not our job to take the moral place of families,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s our issue when kids are using words like ‘gay’ when they have no knowledge about what they’re talking about.”
Kristin Sharp, assistant principal of Santa Cruz High School and former health teacher, disagrees with the bill proposed by Huff.
“I don’t think that it’s realistic,” Sharp said. “You can notify parents — you can tell them at the beginning of the school year that [homosexuality] will come up, but if it comes up, it comes up. Schools are places in which students should learn, and in which they should be exposed to all kinds of people and ideas. Otherwise, how do they get to make up their own minds?”
Sharp has known parents who keep their children home when sex ed comes up. This option paved the way for AB 2086.
“What I’ve discovered, is that when I would tell parents why these discussions were important and why their student should participate, I’ve never had a parent still want to pull their child,” Sharp said.
Schaller connected the bills to a deeply rooted discrimination still present in majorities across the world.
“A majority who is accustomed to being the norm can easily be made uncomfortable when others are treated as being as acceptable as they are — it’s hard to give up supremacy,” Shaller said. “I don’t see a ‘pro-homosexual’ slant, but I do see a ‘pro-diversity’ slant and an acceptance of the reality of the population of California.”