Op-Ed: Gay history is everyone's history

I was quite surprised to read not one but two columnists attack a new law, the FAIR Education Act, just signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

I usually find both columnists quite interesting and agree with most of their viewpoints, especially Dan Kimber's “Education Matters” column. I'm not quite sure why both Kimber and Patrick Caneday (“Small Wonders: Small Wonders: Honor them for what they've done,” July 23) are so hostile to inclusion of gay and lesbian historical people and matters.

Although both try to sound concerned and sympathetic to gays and lesbians, and generally have a calm tone instead of outright bigotry or hatred, I found opinions by both as simplistic and ignorant.

In fact, I'm fairly confident that if I asked each 10 simple questions in regard to gay and lesbian leaders and historical information they would probably fail, and I would not blame them. They are straight men whose teachers never taught them anything about gays and lesbians and who never read information on gays and lesbians in our school history books.

Unfortunately, even most gays and lesbians have to go out of their way to find out about their own history since they grew up in heterosexual families.

The simple fact is that history should include everyone and everything historical and should not leave any voids, even about controversial issues, people and communities. A good example of this is in regard to the Jewish holocaust. Almost everyone has learned about this horrible event in which millions of Jews, communists, gypsies and political opponents of the Nazis were slaughtered. In countless history books up until very recently — and even today in most junior and high schools — the thousands of gay men who wore pink triangles in the concentration camps and were exterminated by the Nazis were completely left out of the picture.

If it is important to know that Martin Luther King was one of the leaders who led African Americans to freedom as well as Cesar Chavez who helped Mexican Americans gain equality, why is it that we should leave out the civil rights leaders of the gay community?

Sexual orientation is who a person is not what a person does.

Gay and straight students need to know that Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander the Great, Alan Turing and Martina Navratilova were and are gay so that straight students can see that these are important historic people who accomplished great things in their own right. They need to know they were gay so that they can gain a clear, complete picture of real people and not ridiculous stereotypes.

Caneday wonders why we need to know that they’re gay. After all, do we need to know that “John Muir walked off the dusty trails and into a warm bed of a woman?”

The truth is that the overwhelming assumption of society is that obviously he was straight, as was everyone else. Internet resources provide a wealth of pictures and information on John Muir’s wife and their two children.

But many important historical gay people were not shown to have a partner. In fact, up until very recent times, obituaries would omit or deny printing the name of a gay partner and neglect to mention the partner in anniversary or wedding announcements as well.

Perhaps the best reason why the FAIR Education Act is necessary is so gay and lesbian students can learn that despite the constant harassment, name calling and violence committed against them, there is still hope and that others just like them accomplished great things that helped the world.

Mark Satterlee


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