“When I was a little kid, I didn’t know what I was. I was afraid,” said David Columbus, a student at Downtown Magnets High School. “The FAIR Education Act is something that should’ve been done a long time ago.”
On July 14, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act into law. The act mandates that historic contributions of people with disabilities as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans be included in social science curriculum. It also prohibits the adoption of instructional materials and textbooks that adversely reflect the LGBT community.
Columbus serves as the president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) group. He struggled with his sexual orientation for years. He feared the consequences he may have faced from his schoolmates if they learned he was gay.
In 2010, he attempted suicide.
“There have been so many kids who have killed themselves because they’ve been oppressed and misunderstood,” he said. “They lived in a society that didn’t accept them. It can be harsh and cruel. If there were adults who could’ve told me what was going on at a young age, I probably wouldn’t have felt as low as I did.”
Elizabeth Ramirez, also a student at DMHS, said she thinks students will feel safer about coming out as gay once schools begin their inclusion of LGBT material. Her classmate, Liliana Contreras, remembered learning about a peer who was beaten up for being a lesbian.
“Maybe if this [act] were passed earlier, that wouldn’t have happened,” Contreras said.
At King Drew Medical Magnet High School, routine homophobic remarks are something Erick Villegas has learned to deal with. During a recent English class, students were given a passage on LGBT rights. He said many classmates responded with negative comments and slurs.
“At my school, this topic is rarely addressed. But once it comes up, gays are really attacked,” said Villegas.
He said he hopes the LGBT mandates will help fight bullying and promote open-mindedness.
“My school would be a much better and safer place,” Villegas said.
The act will be implemented in schools by January. At DMHS, faculty and GSA advisers have started a dialogue with students regarding figures and topics they believe should be added to social studies curriculum.
Contreras emphasized her admiration for Los Angeles native and GSA activist Daniel Solis. She said he is someone who students deserve to learn about.
“He’s helping everyone—not just LGBT people, but everyone—come together to fight for the rights of the LGBT community,” Contreras said.
Ramirez noted that along with historic figures, stereotypes should also be addressed. She alluded to an openly gay teacher at her school. She said he jokes about how he is teased for not “acting gay.”
“He’s not how some people think he should be,” Ramirez said. “I want students to know that stereotypes needn’t apply; they shouldn’t exist at all.”
At King Drew, a curriculum discussion has yet to be addressed with the LGBT student community, Villegas said.
Columbus is hesitant about the reactions students around the state will have to the mandate. He thinks some students will be resistant to new curriculum additions.
“King Drew is in a community that isn’t exactly accepting of homosexuality,” Villegas said. “I think parents are going to make a huge commotion around [the act].”
Villegas said he thinks that it will take time for students to accept the new curriculum additions. Nonetheless, he said it is important for students to learn about the diverse leaders who are shaping society.
“Education is the key to this situation,” Columbus said. “The act will give people a chance to understand, an opportunity to at least try to relate.”
This was written by Teresa Rosales for Neon Tommy.
FAIR Act May Help Reduce Homophobia, Students Say | Neon Tommy