The hyper-active gay-rights establishment in California has finally succeeded in getting the Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the California Student Civil Rights Act. State Senator Sheila Kuehl’s new bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected from educational discrimination. Teachers and school districts have been prohibited from “giving instruction… [and] sponsoring any activity that reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin or ancestry” and more recently, sexual orientation and gender identity have been added to the list.
Three things are troubling about this new law. First, we don’t know exactly what qualifies as instruction that “reflects adversely upon persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Such a law could feasibly prohibit lessons or stories that treat the terms “mother” and “father” as normative; the terms “husband” and “wife” could be forcibly abandoned in favor of the generic, gender neutral “partner.”
Additionally, the law prohibits school districts from “sponsoring any activity that reflects adversely upon persons because of their gender identity.” A number of consequences could be entailed by this; it could mean that having a homecoming queen is prohibited. It could also mean that locker rooms and bathrooms have to be opened to students on the basis of the gender they perceive themselves to be. In truth we don’t know for sure how this legislation will be interpreted, and not knowing what a law will actually do is always a good reason not to pass it.
Also troubling, is the underlying assumption that the state needs new authority to protect gay children from teasing or harassment — an assumption based on no evidence. Discrimination and bullying are already illegal. The state of California is one of the most gay-friendly places on the planet. Why does the GLBT caucus think they need additional authority, unless they plan to use it in new areas? We know that the Los Angeles Unified School District is already allowing students who claim to be transsexual to use the locker rooms of their choice. We know that the Ninth Circuit court held that city of Oakland recently could lawfully prohibit the words “marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values” as hate speech. I’m somehow not reassured by the gay lobby’s claim that they won’t ban the words, “mother,” “father,” “husband,” and “wife.”
Most disturbing, however, is that such legislation will cause struggles in the development of a healthy sense of gender in the vast majority of young people. Due to the flexible language employed, anything that looks remotely like gender stereotyping will run afoul of this law In other words, anything that says, “boys should do X” or “girls should do Y” will certainly be considered to “reflect adversely” on children with any gender identity confusion.
Most young people have questions about how to express their gender. What does it mean to be a man? What should a good woman do? These are questions with which all young people must grapple, and they are entitled to have some substantial guidance from adults. For far too long, we’ve been avoiding these questions out of fear of offending feminist sensibilities. With this new law, California school teachers and school boards will have to fear the gay lobby, as well as the feminist establishment.
Ample evidence exists to suggest that men and women react different to everything from cohabitation, to infertility, to child-bearing. The path on which we travail with such laws leaves children to discover these critical differences in unfortunate, and often very painful, ways. Such a law limits the fruitful discussion that would benefit the majority of children in order to protect the feelings of the handful of children who might have same sex attractions.
I seriously doubt that the psyches of California gays and lesbians are so fragile that their well-being depends on protecting school children from hearing the words “mother and father.” I don’t believe the vast majority of sensible gay people in California think they need this policy. Moreover, any children who are actually suffering can be helped through the far less intrusive means that are already available.
Sheila Kuehl has given the state of California the power to control what it means to be male and female with this new bill, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed this thinly-disguised thought-control bill into law. This is clearly far too much power for any public agency to bestow upon itself.
But there is hope that they may have overreached themselves. California citizens, uncomfortable with the prospect of the government controlling the thoughts of their children, are organizing a referendum to repeal this law. Other states would be wise to keep careful watch as well: If this power grab is established in California, it may be coming to a school near you.
– Jennifer Roback Morse is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World.