The Nation's Pulse

Textbook Sex

In California, it's everyone's business, K-12 -- or else.

By 5.16.06

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In a bygone, more sexually reticent age, it was understood that one's sex life wasn't anyone else's business. Even as they undermined the traditions that had buttressed restraint (especially among unmarried young women), those in the vanguard of the sexual revolution appealed to Americans' libertarian instincts. What right, they asked, did the community have to know about peoples' sexual status or behavior?

Apparently, we've come a long way, baby. People's sex lives are everyone's business -- especially when it comes to figures of historical note. In California, the state Senate has just passed a bill that would require school children to study the historical "role and contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender." Watch out, Leonardo da Vinci: You're no longer just an artist, inventor and mathematician -- you're about to become a gay poster boy.

Obviously, it would be absurd to try to teach about the civil rights movement without explaining that Dr. Martin Luther King was black, or telling the story of the suffragettes to anyone who wouldn't understand that Susan B. Anthony was a woman. But in those cases, the race or gender of the historical figures was uniquely relevant to their achievements. Were textbooks to discuss the history of the gay rights movement, the sexual orientation of its leaders would be similarly germane.

Instead, the California law requires the insertion of sexual preference into California and American history, even when the information is completely superfluous. Ironically, the label often serves to circumscribe too narrowly the achievements of those to whom it's applied. Ask yourself: Was Billie Jean King an accomplished tennis player, or an accomplished gay tennis player? Was Cole Porter one of America's greatest gay composers -- or just one of America's greatest composers? Sometimes, obviously, it isn't all about sex.

Time was that the proponents of gay rights insisted both that they were simply ordinary Americans, who live, love, and work just like everyone else -- and that singling them out for any reason based on their sexual behavior was the grossest form of injustice. But now, liberals are requiring that gays, uniquely, be identified, labeled, and studied in accordance with their sexual behavior when it comes to the history books.

Certainly, the new bill will create more of the controversies like the one that raged when a writer inaccurately asserted that Abraham Lincoln had been a homosexual. And then -- like too many of today's movies, books, and fashions -- the discussion of history will become rife with gratuitous sexual references.

But it's worth wondering what many of the historical figures who happened to be homosexual would think about the new effort to draft them into the service of a gay empowerment agenda. Would they be proud -- or would they resent having their historical contributions overshadowed by an irrelevant label that describes nothing more than their private behavior in the bedroom?

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