Putting the sexual identity cart before the accomplishment horse

Okay, I’ll admit that my post title is awkward, but it sums up what California State Senator Mark Leno is trying to do in California public schools:  namely, put a person’s sexuality front and center, with a tag-on coda about the person’s actual accomplishments.  This isn’t the first time a gay California legislator has tried this.

Here’s Leno’s press release:

Senator Mark Leno introduced legislation today that helps address the nation’s bullying crisis by ensuring that historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are accurately and fairly portrayed in instructional materials. Senate Bill 48, known as the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act, adds the LGBT community to the existing list of under-represented cultural and ethnic groups already listed in the state’s inclusionary education requirements.

“Most textbooks don’t include any historical information about the LGBT movement, which has great significance to both California and U.S. history,” said Senator Leno (D-San Francisco). “Our collective silence on this issue perpetuates negative stereotypes of LGBT people and leads to increased bullying of young people. We can’t simultaneously tell youth that it’s OK to be yourself and live an honest, open life when we aren’t even teaching students about historical LGBT figures or the LGBT equal rights movement.”

Research indicates that bullying rates are double in schools where students do not learn about the contributions of LGBT Americans. Students in schools with inclusive education also report that all youth – straight, gay, and those perceived to be gay – are treated more fairly by their teachers and peers.

In addition to including the role and contributions of LGBT Americans in educational materials, SB 48 adds sexual orientation to the state’s existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials. The bill is co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

“Given the number of young people who tragically took their own lives after being bullied for being LGBT – or perceived as being LGBT, it is imperative that we do more to ensure that all children feel fully welcomed, and this legislation is an important step toward that goal,” said Geoff Kors, Equality California Executive Director. “LGBT people should not be pushed into the closest when it comes to what students learn about history. Educating youth about the contributions of LGBT Californians and our state’s rich diversity will help foster true acceptance of LGBT students and will ultimately create a safe school environment for all students.”

“LGBT youth are denied a fair education when they are exposed to harmful stereotypes in classroom materials and are excluded from learning about their history,” said Carolyn Laub, GSA Network’s Executive Director. “The FAIR Education Act is a key step in preventing discrimination in the classroom and creating safe, respectful schools.”

Senator Leno’s bill was modeled on Senate Bill 1437 (Kuehl) from 2006, which passed both houses of the Legislature, but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. About 20 Senators and Assemblymembers have agreed to co-author the legislation, including members of the LGBT Legislative Caucus. It will be heard in the Senate in the New Year.

As I noted, this happened before, back in 2006.  I’ll regurgitate now what I said then:

I don’t have a problem with acknowledging that someone who has distinguished accomplishments did so because of (or despite) pressures against him because of his race, color, creed or sexual orientation. To dig into my discontent with this propsal, I really had to break down things down into what I think ought to be taught, versus what I think this bill is trying to accomplish.

Like it or not, our public schools are going to teach values. You can’t teach any subject but math and chemistry without wrapping it up in subjective content. For example, we’re all alive to the battles over history: Was the development of America a Democratic light in the world or was America a genocidal experiment that killed Native Americans and trashed their culture? Is socialism an inherently good thing that was misused by the Nazis, Soviets and Chinese, or is it a doctrine that is inherently evil? And don’t even get me started on the battles over Judeo/Christianity and dead white men.

The same, of course, goes for English. We don’t quarrel about the need to teach our children to read, but once you get past “the cat sat on the mat,” what do you have them read? Shakespeare? Mein Kampf? Dead, white males? Living, oppressed [fill in the blank]?

My point is that, everything our children read teaches them something. Only the sciences have a purity that raises them above values (although, as we know from the Nazis, science in the presence of the wrong values, or in the absence of any values, is the most deadly thing of all).

For all these difficulties, though, there are a few core values that, I think, most people want to see their children learn: loyalty, honesty, respect, bravery, faith, etc. These are abstract values that exist in almost all societies, regardless of specific societal dogmas or practices. (Although some societies place these labels on practices that are antithetical to the same values as practiced in other cultures. For example, in the late 1970s, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about Palestinian soldiers. As part of the training to demonstrate their bravery, they’d use their bare hands to rip the heads off of live chickens. I call that sadism, not bravery.)

William Bennett tuned into this idea of overarching abstract values when he wrote his hugely popular virtue series. In his books, he identified a virtue and then illustrated it with stories drawn from different countries, cultures, religions, etc. “Bravery” might be illustrated by stories about Chinese warriors, black athletes overcoming racism, or Valley Forge. He started with a color-blind, race-blind, sex-blind abstract virtue, and went from there to specifics that demonstrated that the abstract virtue applies equally to all races, colors and creeds.

In other words, Bennett makes it clear that honesty wasn’t confined to dead white males who owned slaves. (I’m thinking George Washington and the cherry tree here.) Bennett’s approach, instead, was that any given value is universal, and that one can readily find examples of that universal value amongst the various groupings, tribes, self-identifications, etc., that make up citizens of the world.

Identity politics has this bass-ackwards. It essentially says that the “value” is being Black, or being gay, or being Hispanic, or being female. It then goes on to say, almost coincidentally, that if you go digging around amongst those people who inherently possess these “values,” you can find some abstract, overarching virtues as well. “He’s gay and — wow! — he’s brave, too.” “She’s black and — this is so cool — she’s compassionate.”

Well, I’m sorry, but being Black is not a value. Being Hispanic is not a virtue. Being gay is not an ethic. Each of these is simply a label to help classify a person, because classification seems to be an innate human need. None of these labels describe conduct (although one could argue that point a bit when it comes gays, because homosexuality manifests itself through sexual conduct, whereas being black is tied to appearance, not actions).

I want to hear about heroic, brilliant, compassionate, important blacks, gays, women, Hispanics, etc., and I want my children to hear about them too. The focus, though, should be on the “heroic, brilliant, compassionate” parts, which are universal values we want to see all children learn. Only then should we go to the subset idea, which is that, no matter the label you give yourself (or that is given to you), you can aspire to these over-arching values, virtues and ethics.

So, let’s do away with Black History Month and the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Month I now see lurking around the corner. Let’s have Honesty month, and Compassion month, and Bravery month, and Patriotism month. Then, during those months, let’s illustrate that virtue with examples drawn from the myriad cultures, ethnicities, religions, sexes, and sexualities that go towards the melting pot — yes, I used that old fashioned idea — that is America.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • 11sunflower

    I’ve been lurking a long time but finally had to pipe in. Bravo and spot on assessment!  I have said a million times, the most damaging thing in America today is when a person uses the hyphen in identifying themselves. 

  • http://nonoriginalrants.blogspot.com Midwest Chick

    One of the problems with identity politics is that people are then seen to be two-dimensional.  They are gay or black or female or whatever but nothing else.  Most of the gay folks I know prefer to be seen as people first–they are not their sexuality.  Whatever happened to ‘judging someone by the content of their character’?

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This is the advent of tribalism. By increasing the differences between factions, it is easier to make them hate and once you have that hate, it becomes much easier to make them fight each other.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~nooriginalthought/ Charles

    That is a load of horse hockey!  (the press release, Book, not your post)

    I, as a gay man, have NOTHING to do with transgendered individuals; so why lump me together with them?  My history includes more than just other gay individuals.   Gay or preceived to be gay youths are treated better in schools where they teach tolerance – Where is this “research” that he refers to? In his head? I could go on and on with tearing that whole press release apart. But, I’ll spare the words by just saying the whole thing is a load of political horse hockey!

    Thank you, Midwest Chick, for you have nailed it – “Most of the gay folks I know prefer to be seen as people first.”

  • Charles Martel

    Hey, welcome 11sunflower!

    Charles, you make a point that I see few people raise. I can understand lesbians and gay men banding together out of a sheer commonality of interests, but I never understood adding bisexuals, transsexuals and cross-dressers to the mix.

    Well, actually I do—the bigger the Circle of Aggrievement, the more seemingly virtuous and solicitous the whole movement seems. Also more room for cover, since to attack the interests of one group is to attack the interests of all.

  • 11B40


    My favorite bit of Mark Leno minutia is that he introduced legislation to increase the amount of child pornography one could possess without facing serious criminal charges.  Yep, a real piece of Frisco work, that one – now making California safe for sexual deviancy.

  • excathedra

    I’m with Charles. Aside from being more than tired of the Balkanization of America via the Official Victims designation, I don’t want people to buy into the “LGBT” paradigm, which our public spokespersons have now made a dogma. Gay male and lesbian females, despite our many differences, do have a few things in common. The bisexuals just get thrown in there because they throw a fit. But what really irks me is trying to make a common identity or community with transgenders.
    What I have in common with a lesbian is that we both have a sexual orientation to our own sex. WTF do I have in common with a male who wants to have his genitals cut off and made into a vagina and have artificial breasts implanted, etc?
    The mega-message that this inclusion supports is the sense that a homosexual man does not want to be a man, but a woman, and vice versa. If you keep an eye out for it, the overwhelming marker of gayness –including and especially among people who are supposed to be gay friendly– is considered to be gender deviance. Men acting womanish, women acting mannish. This makes homosexuality not an erotic orientation but a gender confusion.
    Count me out. And out of Mr Leno’s LGBT plans.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    It’s just like unions. It doesn’t matter if the worker wants to be in the union or not, by definition if he works in a union job, he is in the union. Otherwise this would be a problem for the “collective bargaining” of unions which is considered by many, including Z, to be equivalent to human rights and property rights.

    The reason why the clump them all together is for power. It makes their agenda safer from outside attacks and it makes their cause have “social justice” attached to it.

  • Charles Martel

    I saw Leno up close at the 4th of July parade in my town last year. The parade had come to a temporary stop so he jumped out of the convertible he’d been waving from to schmooze a bunch of old people sitting near me. He charmed them with promises to look after their interests in Sacramento (i.e. keep the perks and feel-good laws coming) and quickly had them cackling and eating out of his hand.

    He looked over at me to see if he could continue the charm offensive. I glared back at him the same way I’d glare at a disconnected segment of tapeworm. Frankly, it was hard for me to see any difference. He was wise enough to see that I was totally a lost cause, so he hopped back into his car and was soon gone.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This has two utility purposes.

    1. By constantly making note of what separates different people, it creates social discontent, conflict, strife, and violence.

    2. Number 1 directly leads to increasing the demand for societal security, comfort, and stability amongst people who are the “same” as you. They tighten the social controls on people and at the same time people who don’t want to “belong” are threatened with the frightening prospect of being shunned and taken near the conservative wolves to be eaten. Gays and union folk are told that without their “buds”, they will be alone at the mercy of the conservative evil. Scary. Of course, the other side of the stick is the even bigger meat stick called Leftist social ostracism and punishment. If you’re a black and you’re a conservative, you’re a race traitor. 1 plus 1 equals 2. So you can either become a race traitor and then overtaken by wolves and eaten, or you can be an obedient follower of your “group” and listen to the commands of your “leader”.

    Normally people would see this and think “well, they are making people more afraid, so that means they’re trying to sow disunity, so since my buddies on the Left are all about gay and black unity, this isn’t the Left but a Right wing lie”.

    In truth, it’s not an either-or situation. It’s not that the Left is either for stability or strife. They are DOING BOTH at the same time. One reinforces two. Two reinforces one, which then reinforces two all over again.

    The Palestinians are their own worst enemy, because they need an external enemy to blame their problems on. The same is true of unions, the black community, GL communities, and so on and so forth. It’s not very different. Ever wonder how come the Left found it so easy to ally with Muslim terrorists and anti-Americans? That’s the reason. Whatever their ideological differences, organization wise they are pretty similar.

    You are either for the union and your fellow workers or you are a scab, breaking collective bargaining rights, and on the side of the rich, fat, evil corporations trying to fire workers.

    You are either for black power and voting Democrat or you are a race traitor, uncle tom, and sell out to evil republicans.

    You are either GLBT or you are bigoted, afraid, prudish, and deserving of hate for being evil.

    You are either for Allah or you are going to be beheaded as an Israeli/American spy.

    Sound familiar yet?

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~nooriginalthought/ Charles

    Charles M – Don’t glare too hard.

    He might sic his security detail on you.

  • Tonestaple

    1.  Sorry, Book, but you are sadly wrong about the sciences being free of subjective content.  I was looking for a used math textbook to see if I could still do math, and every single word problem in one volume had to do with the evils of smoking:  if a cigarette releases this volume of particulates or nicotine or tar or something and the smoker is in a room this big, how long before everyone dies.  Or something like that.  I had to get a really old book to find word problems that had nothing to do with social causes.

    2.  I have never understood black pride or white pride or blonde pride or pride in any other factor that came to you by way of genes.  These things are an accident of birth and represent no achievement.  No one should take pride in something that simply exists; pride is for things a person accomplishes.

    3.  I love the idea of having virtue months instead of special interest months.  July for patriotism, of course.  December for generosity (Christmas plus get in those last minute charitable donations for tax purposes).  November for gratitude (Thanksgiving, of course).  August for kindness because the heat makes us cranky.  What else?

  • excathedra

    Tonestaple, re: pride.
    In one way you are right, but the historical setting for these various forms of group pride are pretty simple. They are seen by these groups as an antidote to group shame.
    Blacks or gays or whatever other group has seen itself as not only the underdog but as held in contempt for its shortcomings responded by denying that they had anything to be ashamed of for being Black or gay, etc. So we have “pride” instead. It’s really a reactive way of rejecting shame.