A Los Angelos High School teacher, Danielle Taklender, has quietly been teaching a "controversial" book without controversy for seven years at Grover Cleveland High School. CNN reports that the book, "Luna" by author Julie Anne Peters, is a story about a transgender teen. When discussing the book in class, the students and teacher discuss the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. They also discuss the different ways to view pronouns and the various gender roles in existing literature. No parents have ever complained to Taklender, barring one parent who requested a different assignment after completion. The teacher points out the obvious – no student has ever reported to her that he/she changed his/her sexual orientation after reading the book.
While Taklender teachings haven't been met with much adversity, that may soon change. California now has a new law – the first of its kind – which mandates curriculum regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history and social science. The llaw, called the California Fair Education Act bans materials that adversely reflect on someone's sexual orientation. It further requires schools to teach about Native Americans and those with disabilities. The new law will take effect in January. There are, of course, opponents – some objecting because of religious reasons and others claiming that such teachings are sex education which doesn't belong in the schools. To me, that is flat out ridiculous. Sex education deals with just that – teens having sex, what happens when you have sex etc. Sexual orientation and gender identity are completely different. Of course, even worse, are the others still simply argue that this type of education isn't proper at all. Those parents worry that their kids will be negatively affected (turn gay?) from the teachings. Thankfully, all efforts to appeal the new law have failed.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network conducted a survery in 2009 that revealed only a staggering 13% of students have ever learned about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people in a positive way. With such statistics, it is clear to see that students aren't getting the complete history – they aren't truly learning that such people are just like the rest of society – some good, and some bad. New York University history and education Professor, Jonathan Zimmerman, points out that our lesson books have changed over time and must continue to do so.
"There was a time when history books only had white guys. Over time, successive groups fought to have their story become a part of the main story." says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman further points out that as with the rest of the stories, districts need to be careful not to just highlight the negative or the positive. There must be a mixture. For example, we send soldiers to war to fight for our freedom – yet we deny gey freedom in the military. There are case studies that can and should be compared (Emmett Till's 1995 murder and Matthew Shepard's 1998 murder). As this progresses, many California districts will likely turn to these instructors for guidance. It is encouraging to see that sexual orientation and gender identity topics are making their way to the classroom. 2012 may be an exciting year for LGBT rights including same-sex marriage and other LGBT equality issues.
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