News - February 1996

No Dignity for All Students: Legislators "Saw No Need"

The Dignity for All Students Act, AB 1001, was defeated Wednesday (January 10) in the Education Committee of the State Assembly. The bill was targeted for defeat by the Republican Assembly Caucus, which now controls the State Assembly. In fact, one Assemblymember admitted that he had been assigned to the Assembly Education Committee for that day to vote against AB 1001.

The hearing itself -- not the vote's outcome -- came as a bit of a surprise. The bill was up for reconsideration and was scheduled for a "vote-only," with no testimony. However, Assemblymember Steve Baldwin (R-El Cajon) had invited over a dozen witnesses, to oppose the bill as "ex-gays," and wanted them heard. The bill's author, Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl (D-Encino), as well as co-sponsors -- LIFE Lobby and the California Teachers Association -- were told that testimony would not be heard and were not informed otherwise until that morning.

Testimony was predictable. Proponents spoke eloquently of the discrimination faced by students because of their sexual orientation. The opponents were uniformly opposed to any positive presentations on the gay "lifestyle" in public schools. A popular tactic these days is for opponents to speak against discrimination, but then go on to talk about homosexuality as an abnormality which requires "help," not tolerance. For example, one witness who identified himself as a psychiatrist, testified that his profession has been at the forefront opposing any and all discrimination against homosexuals. He then spoke at length about the "arrested development" of homosexuals; when questioned closely he admitted that "calling a child 'fag' might be a positive deterrent" to the development of homosexual "inclinations."

In her closing argument, Sheila Kuehl brought the large hearing room to absolute silence. Picking her words with deliberate care, she said, "Let's agree with the opponents today, just for the moment, and say that homosexuality is a choice. Well, one may also consider religion a choice. In the last millennium, Jews were told, 'Being Jewish is a choice. Become a Christian and we won't kill you. Go kneel -- Go kiss the cross,' but they would not. Why? Because the way we choose to love the divine is part of our very essence, part of who we are. Just as who we choose to love is part of our very essence, our humanness."

Kuehl continued, "Today, we look back in horror at that time, at that treatment of people because of their religion. In this millennium, we are learning to look back in horror at racism and discrimination based on gender. And even though we lose this bill, today, I believe in my heart that in the next millennium we will look back in horror at this smug failure to do what is right on behalf of all people."

The final vote went down on party lines, 7 Democrat votes for, and 8 Republican votes against. Assemblymembers Dede Alpert (D-San Diego), Diane Martinez (D-Alhambra) and Kerry Mazzoni (D- San Rafael) questioned key points of the opposition. But in the end, the Republican Assembly Caucus position carried the day.

AB 1001 would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in California's public schools, colleges, and universities.

Afterwards many who had heard the testimony came up to Sheila and other witnesses to express their support. Sheila reminded all of us that the opportunity to debate the issue, to talk about the prejudice that debases each gay and lesbian student, each gay and lesbian individual -- takes us a step closer to the day when such discrimination is distant memory.

General information: Jeff Walsh
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