Commentary: Gay citizens have contributed to our history

There's history as it happened. And there's history written through the filters of bias and brevity.

Gov. Jerry Brown did the right thing Thursday. He signed a bill making California the first state to require that public schools tell the stories of gays and lesbians and their contributions to society in social studies classes.

In making history, Brown said something irrefutable: "History should be honest."

Others disagree. They see the law as political correctness run amok and a further dilution of mainstream American values.

"That's not the kind of stuff I want my kids learning about in public school," state Sen. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale told The Sacramento Bee. "They've really crossed a line into a new frontier."

LaMalfa would prefer that his kids lean fake history. And that his gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender constituents not have a chance to merit a line or page in a public-school history book.

This landmark law isn't about political correctness. It's about telling the whole story, an often difficult and complicated thing to do.

Should current events and history classes ignore big stories because a topic -- such as gay rights -- makes some people uncomfortable or because they believe that homosexuality is a sin?

If comfort, as well as religious and political beliefs, are yardsticks for instruction and discussion, then California's public schools would have to pretend that Proposition 8 -- the gay-marriage ban -- never happened.

Should we not tell of the labor movement because some people prefer unions and others prefer right-to-work laws? Should we pretend that immigration hasn't divided the state and the nation for generations?

No, we shouldn't.

I have concerns about the law. My hope is that it doesn't lead to teachings like "Oscar Wilde, who was gay, wrote 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and 'The Importance of Being Earnest.' " Rather, honest history would include an explanation for age-appropriate classes that Wilde was imprisoned for two years in London after being convicted of gross indecency with men in a sensational trial.

Perhaps I can offer a better example and shoot down the nonsense that California's new law is merely part of the liberal agenda.

In the late 1970s, singer Anita Bryant led an effort repealing a gay-rights ordinance in Dade County, Fla. Politicians being serial copycats, Oklahoma and Arkansas banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Here in California, Orange County lawmaker John Briggs authored a similar effort, Proposition 6.

Early polling showed the initiative way out in front. But Harvey Milk, an openly gay San Francisco supervisor, led an organized opposition. Over time, Milk was joined by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who wrote a newspaper editorial against Proposition 6. Briggs' initiative was defeated with 58% of voters in opposition.

But this isn't the whole story. Briggs' proposal inspired the formation of the Log Cabin Republicans. Their members are conservative. They believe in low taxes, free markets and a strong military. They admire Abraham Lincoln, hence the log cabin in their name. And they believe in liberty for people regardless of sexual orientation.

Pretty interesting stuff. Tell me, how do you teach California's political history without including the contributions of gays?

You can't.

For those who disagree, there are private and home schools.

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