Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Disabled new targets of anti-gay initiatives


Karen England
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Anti-gay activists have added people with disabilities to their targets in the latest attempts to undo Senate Bill 48, also known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act.

SB 48 requires that students learn about the historical contributions of LGBT Americans and people with disabilities, among others.

In the coming months, Californians could face multiple bids to gut the state law, which was authored by gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and is set to go into effect January 1.

A proposed initiative reportedly filed with the state attorney general's office Tuesday, December 6, brings to five the total number of efforts to diminish SB 48's impact.

One of the most recent proposals, "Repeal SB48," filed by Richard Rios, chair of the Christian Coalition of California, strikes people with disabilities from the groups whose historical contributions have to be taught to students. In another part of his proposal, Pacific Islanders are removed from the law, among other changes. He previously submitted documents to exclude LGBTs.

Many feel excluding LGBTs and others from the law means children won't get an accurate picture of history.

Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, a nonprofit that's been part of a coalition supporting SB 48, said Rios "would like to have a law that tells the history of a country that never existed and certainly doesn't now."

It's not clear why Rios, who submitted his latest proposal to the attorney general's office November 21, wants to exclude people with disabilities. He didn't respond to interview requests for this story. When it came to excluding LGBTs, he previously expressed concern over parents' religious beliefs being contradicted.

Whatever his motivation this time, Lauren Steinberg, who has a physical disability and identifies as gay, said Rios's proposal angered her. Steinberg is the systems change advocate for the Berkeley-based Center for Independent Living, which provides support and other services for people with disabilities.

She said Rios's proposal "does students a huge disservice." A child may be the only person in their family, or in their school, who has a disability, she said. If such a student sees positive role models who have similar issues, it opens them up to what's possible in their own lives.

Steinberg pointed to the late Ed Roberts, who co-founded her agency, as an exemplary figure. She said he was denied admission to UC Berkeley because he was "too disabled," but fought back and eventually became director of the state's rehabilitation department. A state of the art campus for people with disabilities located across the street from the Ashby BART station is named after Roberts.

Rios had already submitted another proposal to strike LGBTs from SB 48. He's also filed an initiative proposal that would allow parents to opt their children out of school instruction in social science and family life that conflicts with their moral convictions. Parents can already opt their children out of health lessons.


Other submissions

On Tuesday, December 6, Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute and its affiliated Capitol Resource Family Impact, said she and other anti-gay activists were submitting their own proposal for the November 2012 ballot.

In an email blast, England said her submission, filed by attorney Kevin Snider, assures that LGBTs aren't excluded from California curriculum. However, she noted that SB 48 prohibits lessons that reflect adversely on LGBTs. England wasn't available for a phone interview, but apparently, she and others don't want positive depictions of LGBTs.

Jack Hibbs, a sponsor of the proposal, said in England's email, "It is unacceptable to require that our schools shine a spotlight on this lifestyle on the one hand and then demand that history books and teachers censor shortcomings on the other."

England recently failed to put a referendum on the ballot next year that would have repealed SB 48. She claims that she came within a few thousand votes of getting the petition signatures she would have needed.

Like Rios, Lou Sheldon also wants to exclude people with disabilities from parts of the law. Sheldon is the chair of the Traditional Values Coalition. On November 22, he submitted "The Bipartisan Initiative to Restore Local School Board Control Act."

In the documents he submitted to the attorney general's office, Sheldon complains that SB 48 takes "from local school boards many important rights and powers essential to local governance and subjecting all California school children to massive new instructional standards."

A message left for Sheldon at Traditional Values Coalition's California headquarters wasn't returned.

Once the proposals by Rios and others enter circulation, they'll have about five months to gather 504,760 valid signatures to get their initiatives on next November's ballot.

Rios has refused to talk about specific fundraising plans, and it's not clear exactly how other anti-gay activists would get the money they need to undo SB 48. It would likely cost millions to hire signature gatherers for all of the proposals.

All of the proposals may be approved for title and summary, and it will be up to backers to decide which initiatives they want to circulate.

Quiet coalition

In contrast to the noises being made by anti-gay groups, the coalition working against SB 48 repeal has been fairly quiet lately.

Jacobs said the Courage Campaign is holding off on re-launching its hotline for reporting signature gatherers and taking other steps.

"We want to see where this goes," said Jacobs. "We want to watch and see what happens with any funding."

Equality California, the state's LGBT lobbying group and a coalition leader, co-sponsored the bill, but it's been mired in leadership and financial troubles. The last executive director quit after three months and it has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

In an email blast Tuesday, EQCA board Chair Clarissa Filgioun said that if "anti-equality advocates have their way, California schools will instead become a breeding ground for extremism. ... The effect on schools will be chilling and the impact on students – especially LGBT youth – could be devastating."

Carolyn Laub is the executive director of Gay Straight Alliance Network, the San Francisco-based nonprofit that, along with EQCA, co-sponsored SB 48.

Laub, who just returned to work from maternity leave, said her organization's still involved with the coalition.

However, she said, "We're a small organization and we don't have the capacity to run a political campaign." GSA Network has been working to ensure that schools implement the law, though.

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