New Anti-Gay SB 48 Ballot Initiative Filed in California
Karen Ocamb

On Thursday, Dec. 8, the Capitol Resource Family Impact officially filed a proposed ballot initiative with the California Attorney General to repeal SB 48, the California Fair Education Act. This now makes five proposed initiatives to repeal the new law that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The FAIR Act, authored by openly gay state Sen. Mark Leno, a natural follow-up to the state’s Harvey Milk Day, requires public schools to include positive lessons on LGBT people and their contributions. The new law also requires the social studies curriculum to include positive portrayals of Native Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders and people who are disabled.

Of the five proposed ballot initiatives to repeal SB 48, three were filed by the California Christian Coalition, one by the Traditional Values Coalition and the latest by the Capitol Resource Family Impact, or CRFI.

This is CRFI’s second attempt. Under the Stop SB 48 Coalition, they recently failed to collect the 504,760 valid signatures required for a referendum to repeal the FAIR Act, though they claim to have come close to 500,000 signatures. This time they have more time—up to five months—to raise money for paid signature gatherers to collect the necessary signatures.

They are also trying a different approach—this time the initiative is designed to repeal only the “over-reaching” aspects of the law. Stop SB 48 sponsor Jack Hibbs said in a press release it is “unacceptable” to require that schools “shine a spotlight on this lifestyle on the one hand and then demand that history books and teachers censor shortcomings on the other.”

“We drafted an initiative that responds to the perception that some want to ignore the contributions of certain individuals,” said Kevin Snider of Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy. “This initiative prohibits history book exclusion of anybody based on their membership in a protected class. But it requires an accurate, historical portrayal of any individual,”

Equality California Board Chair Clarissa Filgioun was outraged. “[I]f anti-equality advocates have their way, California schools will instead become a breeding ground for extremism. Schools will no longer be prohibited from adopting materials that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Parents will be able to pull their kids from social studies courses that include any references to LGBT people. Who ‘counts’ as a minority for the purpose of teaching history will be redefined. And, schools will no longer be required to include or acknowledge the role of LGBT people in the history of California or our nation. The effect on schools will be chilling and the impact on students—especially LGBT youth—could be devastating. We can’t—and we won’t—let anti-LGBT extremism get a foothold in our schools. We’re prepared to do everything in our power to prevent these measures from reaching the ballot and to defeat these measures at the ballot if we must.”

But other than expressed outrage, reaction to the five filings has been tepid. Equality California is still undergoing its reorganizational transition, and presumably the coalition organized by former EQCA Executive Director Roland Palencia is still making coalition conference calls to keep informed. But the mood is more “wait-and-see” than frenetic. After all, these are the same three groups that failed to collect signatures for the referendum.

Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs sent reporters to monitor the Stop SB 48 signature gatherers. Interestingly, the only ones at TVC Lou Sheldon’s press conference on SB 48 were Sheldon and the Courage activists. Additionally, they found and documented incidents where the Stop SB 48 campaign was using lies and deceptive practices to lure people into signing. Jacobs filed a formal complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission. He told Frontiers that he hasn’t heard back yet, but will follow up.

“We are definitely active and intent upon pushing back on these ballot measures to repeal FAIR,” Jacobs told Frontiers in an email awaiting the final Prop. 8 hearing. “It’s odd to write this from the courtroom where they will hear arguments about whether to bury video (history) and to disqualify a judge because he’s gay. Good gracious. This is the reason FAIR Ed is necessary! Trust me: we will not rest as long as these folks keep attacking America.”

Meanwhile, according to EQCA Communication Director Rebekah Orr, that organization (which still has a staff of 27) is focused on opposition research; voter education, fundraising and public opinion/ballot title research; and campaign structure and strategic planning.

Here’s how Orr explains it:

Opposition research: Our strategy and tactics going forward depend a lot on what we learn about the campaign our opponents plan to run. Will we be fighting five measures? Or will our opposition coalesce behind one or two? Who is backing the measures? Do they have significant access to money? If they plan to run an all-volunteer signature gathering effort, our ability to block these measures from the ballot will be extremely limited and it may be that we need to focus all of our resources on preparing for a campaign. If they plan to run a paid campaign, our ability to disrupt that campaign in a public way is much more likely. We’re in the process of gathering as much information as we can to make a smart and strategic plan.

Voter education, field research and fundraising: We have hired nearly 20 paid street canvass and phone canvass staff to contact thousands of voters in key target areas each week to do public awareness about FAIR, recruit volunteers and to raise money—giving us significantly more on-the-ground resources to do work around the initiatives than we had during the referendum effort. We have work to do with our base—voters who generally support LGBT equality and who support marriage equality, but who we lose on this issue. This team is also doing field research—gathering information about people’s objections to and concerns about the FAIR Education Act in their own words and tracking key words and phrases that we’ll want to factor into our polling and focus groups. In addition, we’ve launched a statewide house party program that gives us the capacity to do similar public education and outreach, volunteer engagement and fundraising. We’re doing some online fundraising and have launched a Facebook app as a list/capacity-building tool that allows people to easily sign a pledge of support (providing all contact info, etc.) and invite their Facebook friends to join too.

Public opinion/ballot title research: We are gearing up to do comprehensive public opinion research on the FAIR Education Act, as well as doing the fundraising required to conduct research to identify the best potential ballot title language, which will allow us to make informed and strategic recommendations to the Attorney General’s office. Consider this: If these measures reach the ballot, we will spend millions on advertising and public outreach to persuade and educate voters. But, even after all that, many voters may not see or remember that work on Election Day—but they will all see the ballot language. We know from our last round of polling on FAIR that the wording has a huge impact on support or opposition to the measure, so getting this right is critical.

Campaign structure and strategic planning: Equality California has retained the services of DiMare, Van Vleck & Brown, a government relations and communications firm that provides lobbying and communications services to public, private and nonprofit sector clients to lead our legislative work and the activities of our political action committees—including our electoral work around the FAIR Education Act. The firm’s newest employee—Alice Kessler, who served as EQCA’s Government Affairs Director from 2006-2009 and has deep experience in both legislative and campaign work—will spearhead this effort. Alice begins her work on Dec. 12 and will hit the ground running, helping us to shape our organizational leadership strategy on the FAIR Education Act campaign(s).

Orr says the money to hire Kessler did not come from sequestered, specifically identified issues funds, but was raised from the reaction to the first Stop SB 48 effort.

Meanwhile, however, the anti-gay, religiously based National Organization for Marriage is doing a test run of a new attack. According to a fundraising appeal by NOM President Brian Brown, NOM is targeting an anti-bullying curriculum in the Vancouver public schools that he claims “points kids to a website featuring explicit videos of gay sex.” This may well be a case they are setting up to be used in anti-gay campaigns in America, just as they continue to use the discredited Massachusetts couple’s long-ago encounter with a school district that taught about gay marriage.

Brown starts his pitch with: “Our most recent Marriage ADA video features Vancouver School Trustee Ken Denike and mental health professional Sophia Woo, who have been trying to help concerned parents protect their children from an anti-bullying curriculum produced by Out in Schools pointing kids to online ‘resources’ that amount to little more than gay pornography. The request from Trustee Denike and Ms. Woo? That the school district implement a policy for periodic review of websites referenced in school curriculum, recognizing that website content can change quickly.

“The school board refuses to do anything to protect kids from these explicit websites. Anti-bullying teacher Ryan Clayton, who has worked with the Out in Schools curriculum, chalks it up to a politically motivated attack. And for their efforts, Ken Denike and Sophia Woo are denounced as homophobes. ... Let’s be clear—this is not about a student using a school computer to access pornography. This is about official curriculum recommending students visit a website containing gay pornography—and personal attacks directed at anyone who dares stand up for our kids.”

Brown cites the anonymous “gay press,” writing, “‘We will teach your kids the new norms.’ There it is—this is the whole story in eight simple words. No exemptions, no alternatives—just forcing kids to be exposed to government-sponsored porn, in an effort to shift cultural norms and reshape our kids’ understanding of right and wrong. This cannot go unanswered, but we need your help to continue this fight.”

As if this Catholic-funded group’s continued attacks aren’t enough, even if they are largely unsuccessful of late, there is one more ripple of concern. The San Diego Union-Tribune—the region’s largest newspaper for the state’s fifth largest city—is now officially owned by anti-gay Prop. 8 funder and controversial hotelier Doug Manchester.

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