Will textbook gays deter bullying?

In hopes of preventing bullying, California may require textbooks to include the “contributions” of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, reports the Los Angeles Times.  Social studies books and other materials would have to  include “a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans … to the economic, political and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”

Since California buys so many textbooks, “publishers often produce books tailored to California that other states use as well,” notes the Times. On the other hand, the state has postponed buying new books for several years because of the enormous budget deficit.

Gay rights activists say the legislation is overdue and would extend recognition long provided in textbooks and classrooms to historical figures who are African American, Latino and Asian American.

Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced the bill.

In an emotional plea for the bill at a recent legislative hearing, Leno invoked the name of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old student from Tehachapi who committed suicide last year after facing anti-gay bullying at school.

“In light of the ongoing and ever-threatening phenomenon of bullying and the tragic result of suicides, it seems to me that better informed students might be more welcoming in their approach to differences among their classmates,” Leno said in an interview. “Students would better understand that we are talking about a civil rights movement.”

I don’t believe bullies wouldn’t bully if they just knew about Walt Whitman and Willa Cather or even Bayard Rustin.

But it seems churlish to keep gay Americans in the closet when we already stuff textbooks with the “contributions” of racial and ethnic minorities, plus exemplary women. Crispus Attucks gets equal play with Samuel Adams, the beer guy. FDR’s space shrinks to make room for Eleanor.

Perhaps discussing whether Abraham Lincoln was gay will engage students who prefer to discuss sex rather than states rights, slavery or industrialization.

The new biography of Gandhi suggests he had a homoerotic relationship with a bodybuilder in South Africa. Gandhi was gay? If only the bullies knew!

About Joanne


  1. I guess I don’t get it. What does being gay (or black or conservative or likes to drink coffee or anything else, for that matter) have to do with success? Why can’t we just teach our kids that diligence and hard work pay off. Really, do you think that if a bully knows that Walt Whitman is gay it would make any difference in how they treat others?

    Why not just label everyone in each of our textbooks? Abe Lincoln, 16th President and Great Emancipator, becomes Abe Lincoln (stragiht, white, male) and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, becomes Hillary Clinton (straight, white, female) and Walt Whitman, Poet, becomes Walt Whitman (gay, white, male).

    Knowing what they are doesn’t really change what they have done. Does it?

    And let’s be realistic. It isn’t only the gay students who are bullied. Sometimes it is the “smart” kids or the “geeks.” How would that entry in the textbook read? Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft and Philanthropist, or Bill Gates (straight, white, male, geek)?

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    This is just the latest in a long line of confirmations that high school history policies are created by people who have absolutely no f***ing idea what history is or how to do it.

    You can’t just “add gays” or “add whites” or “add a war” to a history text without turning it into an unserious, incoherent jumble of crap. History has to have a theory, a coherent story, to be sensible and effective. It’s a semi-scientific process of explanation and you need to know what it is that you’re explaining.

    If a historical fact (let’s take something like “Gandhi liked to drink blue milk” for example) doesn’t have a connection to what it is you’re trying to explain — the end of British Colonialism, let’s say — then what you’ve done by introducing that fact into the course/lecture/text is create exactly what Rousseau, Dewey, and a whole host of other educational theorists condemn as disjointed, purposeless knowledge.

    Students aren’t stupid: they realize that Crispus Attucks’ great accomplishment was being a rabble-rouser who got shot. If you’re doing a political history, or a social-conflict critique of colonialism, who Crispus Attucks in detail — beyond being the guy who gets blamed for starting the fight — isn’t particularly important. Does anyone care what Thomas Jefferson’s favorite flavor of beer was? And if someone does care (surely some history professor cares) then does anyone REALLY think this is something that we should be spending high school class time on? Beer preferences? No! Because beer preferences have nothing to do with what it is we are trying to explain in the traditional study of the American Revolution.

    There are surely times when the fact of someone’s sexual orientation is relevant. There are a LOT of different ways to do history, a lot of different things to explain and ways to explain them. It just so happens that sexual orientation (something needs to be done about that clunky phrase) is pretty irrelevant to the sorts of explanations that are being offered in the typical high school history curriculum. And, frankly, doing social history is near-impossible until you’ve done some basic political history, history of science, and religious history first. You have to know what sorts of societies you’re looking at and what they had available to them before you start picking them apart.for social critique.

    Now, granted: people have long (as in thousands of years long) treated history as a sort of liturgy, a recitation of goodfacts and unfacts compiled together in the most obviously doctrinal ways. It’s hardly surprising that people should say, “Gee, let’s teach this, too!” As if you can just assert a fact (Walt Whitman is gay!) and make a student recite it on a test and call it “history”. Well, you can. That’s what people have often done. But you shouldn’t: this sort of hodge-podge, disjoint “history” is a mistake, and a liberal democracy should be attempting to end that practice, not exacerbate it.

    American kids have long complained — and PROPERLY complained — about having to memorize meaningless lists of dates and place. Now they can memorize meaningless lists of gays.

    Oh yes, that will warm them to the group in question.

    And speaking of “the group in question” — do we even know what we are talking about when we’re talking about gays? Do we really think that, say, Gandhi, Walt Whitman, Emperor Tiberius, Alcibiades, and Robert Mapplethorpe are all part of the same category? Modes of homosexuality, like modes of heterosexuality, vary dramatically from culture to culture. It’s ludicrous to think that the “straightness” of, I don’t know… Emperor Claudius and the “straightness” of Pope John II and the “straightness” of Thomas Jefferson are all the same. They just aren’t: they were all people of their times and cultures and that altered their behavior, who they were. What is it that we’re identifying when we’re saying that all the people listed above were all “gay”? It’s bad enough when we do this with race, lumping people together willy nilly on the basis of skin color without a thought to what it is we’re actually tracking. As I said above — we should be making the study of history better, not worse.

    Now Joanne’s right: because we’ve adulterated our history texts with all sorts of this stuff, it’s downright mean to tell group X and only group X, “Well, we’ll screw up our history instruction for everyone else but not for you.” So to that extent I can understand the plans currently being formed. But really, “the answer” to the real question — what should we teach in history class — is better history.

    Finally, I accept that I’m just talking about history, and that what schools teach is “social studies”. But really, that label just exists as a sort of cover for indoctrination-via-bad-history, bad anthropology, bad sociology, and bad social psychology.

  3. georgelarson says:

    Do Gays really want to claim Alexander the Great or Alcibiades as one of there own? There lives do not fit the politically correct model progressives are pushing.

    I would like them to be brought up. I hope it would force them to really teach classical history with all of its warts and achievments. Otherwise telling students they are Gay is meaningless.

  4. It’s inappropriate. Schools are for academics, not for trying to further the political agenda of homosexual activists. This isn’t about bullying at all. Rather, it’s about trying to get young people to have a more favorable view of homosexual behavior so that down the line when they become voters, they’ll be more likely to support the homosexual activists’ agenda.

  5. Cranberry says:

    But it seems churlish to keep gay Americans in the closet when we already stuff textbooks with the “contributions” of racial and ethnic minorities, plus exemplary women. Crispus Attucks gets equal play with Samuel Adams, the beer guy. FDR’s space shrinks to make room for Eleanor.
    Perhaps discussing whether Abraham Lincoln was gay will engage students who prefer to discuss sex rather than states rights, slavery or industrialization.

    History is fascinating by itself. There’s no easy way to transition from discussions of sexuality to states’ rights. The political meddling in textbooks, as documented by Diane Ravitch in _The Language Police_, has harmed textbooks.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Somebody thinks that one kid bullies another because of something that was or was not in a ‘social studies’ text book? Really? Our schools are in more trouble than I thought.

  7. In school, we were already taught about Michaelangelo, Walt Whitman, et al, without knowing whether they were straight or gay.
    Pointing it out would be frivolous and take away from their historical achievements.

  8. SuperSub says:


    Including gays in history textbooks will erase the ugly stain of homophobia just as including blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, women, and nerds has erased bullying of those groups.
    Oh wait…

  9. There’d be no need for this overreach if sexually antagonistic selection was taught in all freshman biology classes.