California straightens out kindergartners on gender identity

By Linda Bentley | May 20, 2009

Making schools safer by defining sex as gender identity whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth
ALAMEDA, CALIF. – The Alameda Unified School District, located in Alameda County, Calif., the county in which Berkeley is located, has been considering the adoption of new K-12 curriculum to “address issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

A handout addressing community questions and concerns, asks, “Why are we doing this work?”

It says, “Our work around creating safe schools is to ensure that all students, ‘regardless of their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their family members,’ feel safe in our schools and that all students have equal access to a quality education.”

It goes on to explain how “this work” is in accordance with the legal mandates of AB 537 Student Safety & Violence Prevention Act of 2000 in California, governing board policies on Nondiscrimination/Harassment and Hate-Motivated Behavior along with Education and Penal Code Sections, which require public schools to prevent discrimination and harassment based on legally protected categories.

It states, “The laws and policies explicitly state, that we must protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and staff.”

The district reiterates that its goals are to create safe schools for all children free from teasing and name-calling, and “to create inclusive, welcoming environments that reflect the reality and identity of all students and their families.”

The district decided it was necessary to adopt a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) curriculum because “homophobia is still very much present in many of our schools and communities” and such biases lead to active teasing, bullying, harassment and physical violence against “gender-variant” children who identify as LGBT and families that include LGBT parents or relatives.

The explanation for starting the curriculum in kindergarten provided by the district included, “Students of all ages must be given an opportunity to learn that the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are adjectives that should be used with respect to describe people in their community, not words used in a negative way to hurt, insult and degrade.”

While the law does not require the addition of LGBT curriculum to the “Caring Schools Community” adoption, the committee’s decision to supplement the curriculum was to “provide a resource for teachers to address family diversity, inclusiveness and anti-bullying/slurs.”

The district claims name-calling and anti-gay slurs starts as early as kindergarten and children at that young age have already been introduced to information about LGBT people, which it states “is often based on misinformation and negative stereotypes.”

Another reason it gives for including LGBT curriculum is students are learning about family and community in their California history/social science standards, and, “We cannot learn about some family structures and not others, for if we do that, we are excluding and making invisible some families and not other families. In addition, elementary schools foster understanding of differences and similarities and becoming a responsible citizen of a community. Therefore, it is important that the diversity of family structures of the AUSD community be represented in a visible way in the classroom, not only through lessons, but integrated into the culture of each school site.”

Even though they admit most young children, including kindergarteners don’t understand what the LGBT related words mean when they hear or use them, “they do not know it’s hurtful” when those words are used negatively.

AUSD refers to the curriculum as “anti-bias education,” which it says is relatively new and could cause misunderstandings about the purpose and content.

While those misunderstandings can cause controversy, AUSD says school districts are still “required by law to protect students from harassment and discrimination.”

A number of parents asked if they could opt their children out.

However, the legal opinion provided to AUSD states, “Where issues of sexual orientation or gender identity are raised in school programs other than health, family life or sex education instruction, including programs designed to encourage respect and tolerance for diversity, parents cannot demand their child be exempted from such programs; discussions about LGBT people are not a form of ‘sex education.’ California does not have a requirement for notifying parents and guardians for lessons about respect and diversity. The focus of this curriculum is to create respectful and welcoming learning environments for all students by communicating that LGBT people are part of our communities and anti-LGBT discrimination is harmful to everyone.”

AUSD reiterated the curriculum, “which focuses on inclusion and respect, does not fall within the guidelines for opting out.”

The Student Safety & Violence Prevention Act of 2000 changed California’s Education Code by adding actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing nondiscrimination policy. Whereas, under California law, “‘gender’ means sex, and includes a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

When curriculums are adopted in California, a major consumer of textbooks, they generally make their way into school districts across the country.

So, all eyes are on California on this one.