Saturday, July 30, 2011

Be FAIR....

Why is it that some individuals think that pretending gays are invisible actually makes us not exist? That seems to be the functional logic behind those who are opposing the California's Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act...the bill that would mandate California schools include the teaching of LGBT history in the state curriculum. The bill, which was recently signed into law by the governor,  has conservatives all up in arms and many threatening to remove their kids from schools rather than allow them to be exposed to the notion that gay people exist....may have been pivotal historical figures...and may even have included figures that they have looked up to. *gasp*....say it's not so!

They have gotten so worked up about the notion of including LGBT people in history classes that they have launched a referendum drive in order to scare the voters of California into voting to repeal the law. Even as we speak, volunteers stand outside my local target collecting signatures and registering people to vote.

This bill is contentious precisely because it touches that nerve that NOM worked so well during the Prop 8 campaign. The one that says gays are all out to recruit children in the schools into future homosexuals. That nerve is sensitive to any mention of the words "gay" and "schools" used in the same sentence. Additionally, others have brought up the question, "What does the sexuality of historical figures have to do with their impact on history?" It's a FAIR question and it deserves a FAIR with your indulgence...lets go there....
As many of my readers know, I have attempted to blog about LGBT history before. It's not an easy task because the sources for that history range from the dubious(Wikipedia) the overly studious and collegiate. Additionally, so much of LGBT history is buried in a historical closet wherein various people from surviving family members, religious figures, and homophobic academicians all have had a stake in erasing an LGBT past. Not to mention the facts that many people of past era's did not conceive of a sexual identity in the same manner that we do today...and even if they did, they kept if very veiled for fear of discovery. Put it all together and it makes for a historical narrative that is extraordinarily hard to put together and often contains great gaps with more questions than answers. The very fact that so many people have been unwilling to discuss the issue of a comprehensive gay historical narrative points to it's dire need alone in my opinion. Understanding our past helps all of us to see that we are not alone...not aberrations of humanity...but instead, an integral part of the greater human experience.

But while this might be my opinion, many may ask why this needs to be taught in grade school? Isn't that playing identity politics?...and isn't it playing on the fears of conservatives who feel like talking about gay people at all leads to more kids becoming gay? Why is this a battle that's important to fight?

I think the answer to this comes in the title of the act itself..."fair". I do not mean "fair" in the sense that everyone else got a place in the history where mine. That is small minded identity politics to be sure. I take "fair" to mean how we have grown as a culture to take an honest look at the whole of our past in order to inform our future choices and our sense of who we are now. We know longer shy away from the contributions of Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women because there are so many people who are integral to the development of our nation. Telling their stories makes a more complete picture of history as it was really lived...which is the point of history really, even when they history involves tragic and shameful moments people would rather not address. In discussing Asian American contributions to California we can not ignore the role of the Chinese in building the railroads...or that they were often conscripted and worked under horrible conditions. In discussing WW2 we must not only mention Pearl Harbor...but also the internment camps that many Japanese Americans were forcibly removed to as well as the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki. We have hopefully grown to face our past without flinching away from the parts we don't like. That should include not only our low points but the contributions of those that society marginalized,  and yes...that includes LGBT's. When we talk about Jewish prisoners being released from German Prison camps, why can't we talk about the gays that were left in them for years afterward? Or...Eleanor Roosevelt, she was a wife, mother, Stateswoman, and...lesbian? Perhaps so. Is that Identity politics?...or telling the whole story?

What bearing does the fact that Alexander the Great may have been gay have on the fact that he was an incredible warrior, strategist, and ruler who left a mark on whole continents that lasted for generations and changed the course of whole cultures? What does King James sexuality have on his rule...or on the bible he later commissioned? What about Michelangelo? Well....while sexuality may nor may not have had a direct impact on the events that made these people notable it would have had it's hand in shaping who they were as human beings...just as each our own traits makes us who we are and effects what we do. Being gay may not be the totality of who I am but it does affect my actions whether I accept it or deny it. The same holds true for gender, ethnicity, religion, and so much more that we do include in the teaching of history. All of these elements may not account for the "what" of history but it dam sure helps explain the "why". 

Additionally LGBT history is not only for the LGBT kids who would surely benefit from knowing they are a part of a larger's the story of everyone and that is why even those who are not gay should care. To have a good idea of our past, and to learn it's lessons, as well as communicate those lessons to future generations, we must face it without judgement...which brings me to my next point....

Teaching kids about gay history will not make them gay...though I understand that there are parents out their who do believe that as if it were a fact. Not talking about gay people does not make them go away....and if you child is gay, they are going to be gay no matter what. Teaching about gay people will not alter the number of kids that come out except that it may increase the likelihood that all students will learn to see LGBT people as a normal part of society and that could give strength and confidence to those kids who need it most. Perhaps that's the real danger for conservatives who are worried about this...seeing us as normal. It makes it much harder to hold onto your religiously based notions of gay equals=bad when gay people stop being an invisible threat and become a people with faces, names, and now...a history.

We are not an invisible people. We have fought and died in all major wars. We have been beaten, lobotomized, jailed, executed, and forcibly separated from those we love. We have died by the thousands at the hands of disease. We have helped build nations and been blamed for their collapse. We invented technologies and created great works of beauty...and we have also committed terrible crimes. Our story is a human one, and it deserves to be told. We will not be forgotten.

In closing...I think it does matter that we see ourselves reflected in the story of our past, because that story is the story of us all. To pull one thread out of the tapestry of history is to ruin the entire piece. Yet, for all the drama and hoopla we create over the issue, most school kids will probably still not hear a word that is said in class about LGBT historical figures, much less connect it with themselves. In all likelihood the greatest danger to any kid hearing about a gay person from history will be drowning in his own drool as he snoozes away in history class. This is the way of the world. While you can write it in the books and teach it in the is up to us what we make of our history. But even if you erase us from every history book and prevent our names from being spoken ever again, it will not stop us from being your children...or teaching them. It will not stop us from standing right next to you every day....

Until next time dear readers....


  1. I absolutely agree with you.

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog...

    My husband's mom and my mom are both married to women (basically, all our parents remarried women after their divorces).

    Your children are very lucky to have you.

  2. I had just turned 14 years old when Harvey Milk was assassinated.

    But the fact that I then knew there were other gay people out there made it easier for me. I could finally put a name to what I was.

    And it wasn't until I got older and worked in state government that my political side started to come out.

    So law like that in CA encourages me that maybe it'll be easier for some other 14 year old knowing that gay people can have a positive effect on society.

  3. It's important for kids to learn an accurate history. They should know that gays and lesbians are fighting for their rights like practically everyone has had to do and it's an important part of our nation's history. As far as the sexuality of important historical figures I think it's important to identify that to an extent as well. It's not fair that it be glossed over in order to not convert their children or whatever their irrational fear may be. Certainly no important African-American historical figure was not identified as such and I think one day it'll be the same for homosexuals. If nothing else it shows that gay people have contributed equally to the history of our country and we aren't some phenomenon that came out of no where in the 1970s or something. Seeing things like that could also let kids know that they're not alone, that they're not less than people for being what they are, and that they can do anything they set their minds to. Everyone needs role models.

  4. When I was young my one role model was Alexander the Great. He seemed like the most upstanding, determined and intelligent person I'd ever heard of. When I got a little older, I discovered his sexuality at just about the same time I myself realized I was gay. It was an island, an oasis of pride in the parched sea of shame and a great comfort to know that in a very unique way he and I shared a not-so-common trait. It was solely because of my love of History that I even knew about him, his father, and countless other prominent men in the ancient world. Without a History, some type of lineage, we lack validity and appear as some weird new group of trouble makers. Forget about all this politics and let us simply present the truth. Let us teach the youth about the real Alexander, who led a relatively small army, conquered the known world with it and fell in love with one of his greatest generals and closest friend Hephaestion. Or about the Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite troop of soldiers composed entirely of gay men who bested even the war-like Spartans in combat. So few people know about the beautiful gay poetry of ancient Japan and the complicated relationships there and in ancient Greece. History ought no longer be just militaristic and cultural spoils of the 'stronger.'

  5. Since when were social conservatives remotely academic? Of course they wouldn't care for a balanced dipiction of gays in history, because they like their history like they like their religion: picked and chosen and misinterpreted.

  6. I completely agree...I am a straight teenaged girl, and interestingly most of my teachers speak freely about the sexuality of the people we study. We had a whole R.E. lesson about gay marriage, and I could tell that my teacher, who is also our R.E. teacher, was sympathetic to gay people. However, when I asked him about whether actually being gay was forbidden in the Bible, he replied "Being gay itself is not's whether you act on it." So basically gay people should lie to themselves about how they feel? It seems wrong to me.
    Changing the subject a bit here, but many straight people find same-sex relationships between the opposite sex a turn on, but between their own sex disgusting...this is particularly common in male-ego-types. This seems strange to me. Although I must admit I'm guilty of the former...I especially love George and David from 'The War Boys' as a couple, amazing acting...again, I'm moving off the subject.
    Anyway, just wanted to say I agree, and let you know how many young straight people support you.

  7. I don't mean to burst your bubble, but the material they're teaching on LGBT people is seriously lacking right now. I took AP US History last year at my high school and we used the two textbooks that are most widely used for AP US History and College-level history courses and both had LGBT history in them. I was initially very excited because I am a gay teen however I later found out that LGBT History meant small footnotes like "Sodomy laws were in place in the 1770's when the country was first started.", "President James Buchanan may have been gay.", "During the late 1960's the gay liberation movement started, inspired by the earlier homophile movement with organizations like the Mattachine Society." Education about LGBT people during the AIDS crisis is even worse, where gays are really only mentioned in footnotes, not even mentioning the huge stigma surrounding homosexuality at the time. It's really sad that they don't mention this, in addition to gays during the Civil War where many homosexual practices were tolerated despite bans put in place by the government, gays during WW2, the Stonewall Riots, the battle to change the DSM in the 70's, Harvey Milk, and the current gay rights movement. I assume gay education for younger students would be even worse, because many parents are hesitant about teaching children the more sexual events in history like AIDS, whether gay OR straight.

  8. I agree with this post 100%. LGBT people exist in the world and hiding that from kids isn't doing them any favors. What will happen when they leave their oversheletered bubbles and go out into the real world?