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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Militant Slavic Christians threaten progress on gay rights in California

Immigrants who fled Soviet persecution to California menacing Sacramento LGBT community

by JewsOnFirst, August 9, 2006

Links to reports and documents cited in our report can be found immediately following it

Aggressive Slavic Christian immigrants are terrorizing gays and lesbians in Sacramento. These militants, organized through their churches, have been in the forefront of religious right opposition to legislation promoting respect of gays and lesbians in California's public schools. So fierce has that opposition been, that the bill's author was forced to remove one of its two sections.

Such a retreat is unusual in California, a blue, generally gay-friendly state. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in response to the religious right's onslaught, promised to veto the measure, Senate Bill 1437, before the legislature even acted on it.

So this week, citing "endless distortions and falsehoods," Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the bill's author and the state's first openly lesbian legislator, removed language requiring school textbooks to mention the sexual orientation of historically significant gay and lesbian individuals.

Deleting that language was necessary to save the other part of the bill, according to Alice Kessler, the legislative advocate for Equality California, which works for LGBT civil rights on a state level and is the sponsor of SB 1437. The remaining language, Kessler told JewsOnFirst, "protects against adverse portrayals of people from stereotypes based on religion as well as sexual orientation."

Sacramento LGBT community shaken
This legislative action takes place against a background of anti-gay protests by militant Slavic Baptists and Pentecostalists that have shaken the Sacramento area lesbian and gay community.

According to the Sacramento Bee:

Gays say the Slavic protesters have hit them with signs, spit on them and displayed a menacing lack of civility. Gay leaders have met with local police and press to say they're worried about violence, and now they're forming a "Q Crew" -- a new political activism group -- to tell the public their fears.

Kessler described a Queer Youth Advocacy Day organized last March by Equality California that brought youth from around the state to Sacramento to press for SB 1437 and other safe schools measures. The young activists rallied where their permit specified: on the Capitol grounds. Slavic militants aggressively counter-demonstrated and, according to Kessler, the police let them congregate near the Capitol, rather than across the street where they were legally required to stay.

On April 26th, set aside as the Day of Silence in support of tolerance of GLBT students, Slavic high school students in several districts wore T-shirts condemning homosexuality; the shirts had the word "gay" in a red circle with a red slash through it.

Some of the t-shirted students were suspended, bringing on more protests, according to news reports.

Kessler called the messages on those T-shirts "troubling." That symbol, she said, "suggests that a group ought to be eliminated."

At one of the Day of Silence events last spring, there were reports of Slavic protesters spitting at students observing the day.

Also last spring, at least 1,000 Slavic militants staged a demonstration at the Capitol calling on Gov. Schwarzenegger to veto S.B. 1437, according to the Sacramento News & Review..

In June, militant Slavic Christian hecklers were out in force at Sacramento's gay pride parade. According to the Sacramento Bee, they were swinging signs and shouting at the marchers.

Targeting schools
Gretchen Bender, who was recently elected to the Sacramento County Board of Education (and is the county's first openly lesbian elected official), told JewsOnFirst that several hundred Slavic militants packed the Sacramento city school district meeting when the board was voting to support non-discrimination and the Day of Silence.

She said that several Slavic Christian protesters showed up at her swearing-in last month. She also said that Slavic militants "send their teenagers to picket at local high schools with anti-abortion signs."

Sen. Kuehl's statement
In a statement emailed to JewsOnFirst, in response to a request for comment, Sen. Kuehl addressed both the changes to SB 1437 and the protestors attacking it. Kuehl (pictured here, at front, with the legislature's LGBT Caucus) said:

In the face of endless distortions and falsehoods, let me make clear once again that my bill, SB 1437, simply adds gays and lesbians to a list, currently in California law, of groups who have historically been ignored or defamed in popular culture and who may not, under law, be portrayed adversely in official school materials or activities.

I believe, as a general principle, that schools should be a safe place for our students, a place that sets an example for our ability to live as fellow citizens in a pluralist, diverse democracy. SB 1437 absolutely does not limit free speech based on religion or based on anything else. Christians, like other Californians, are, and will remain, free to express their deep moral convictions and political views.

I do believe, however, that one function of public schools in a democracy such as ours is the training of students to exchange fervent views about vital issues in a civil and respectful way, without defamation or intimidation. Such education is especially important for students who come from authoritarian societies without a democratic tradition of free and lively civil discourse.

Schools have every right to insist on policies that curb violence and that protect the right of every student to get an education in a safe and appropriate environment. SB 1437 is simply about protecting students against official negative stereotyping and helping our young people develop the skills to participate in the society in which they live and are expected to function.

Religious right implacable
The legislature's lower house, the Assembly, approved the change on August 7th. But stripping down SB 1437 did not placate the religious right.

The Traditional Values Coalition emailed out an action alert that warned:

This amendment is nothing more than a cheap political shell-game to tempt Governor Schwarzenegger to sign this despicable bill, which would openly advocate the promotion of the homosexual/transgender lifestyle while banning all religious viewpoints to the contrary!

This bill is rooted in anti-religious bigotry and is incredibly dangerous to our kids.

What remains of SB 1437 would ban textbooks, teachers, and school boards from providing instruction, sponsorship, or material to students that would “reflect adversely” on homosexual, bisexuals, and transgender people!

Another religious right website, Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), which is linked to the Slavic militants, scoffs at the stripped-down bill. "The effect of the bill is unchanged," said the website. The group's news release said it still expected Schwarzenegger's veto.

Scant details about origins of Slavic Christians' activism
The Sacramento Bee, citing community leaders, puts the number of local Slavic evangelical Christians at around 30,000. They emigrated over the last decade or so from Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Little could be immediately learned about the origins of the several Slavic Christian churches mentioned in the news reports cited below. The Bee quotes several activists speaking of religious persecution in the old Soviet Union.

The Bee and other reports say the Slavic Christians believed that they were coming to a Christian country.

Assemblymember Mark Leno (quoted by the Capitol Weekly) and Alice Kessler of Equality California link CCF head Randy Thomasson with mobilizing the Slavic militants to oppose safe schools legislation. Kessler said the collaboration began in the late 1990s. Leno puts the two together in 2005.

Thomasson told the Bee he credits the Slavic Christians with persuading Gov. Schwarzenegger to oppose SB 1437.

Board of Education member Gretchen Bender (pictured at left) said that the Slavic Christians have joined forces with a small "hard-core" religious right group that uses trucks with large billboards. The group changes the billboards depending on whether they are protesting a woman's right to choose or gay rights.

This matches the description of Pastor Richard Otterstad of the tiny Church of the Divide in El Dorado in both the Capitol Weekly and News & Review. He told the Weekly that he made the connection by attending meetings of a Slavic pastors assocation.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-wing law group, reportedly represents some of the students suspended for wearing shirts with hateful expressions on the Day of Silence.

Potential for reconciliation -- or power
Kessler of Equality California takes exception to the prevailing notion that the Slavic Christians are puppets of the extreme right. "These are their genuine beliefs and we have to respect that," she said. And, she added, "they have to respect that California is a diverse state."

Christian communities are themselves very diverse, Kessler continued, and many support LGBT rights.

She said that some LGBT community members are reaching out to establish communication with the Slavic Christians. "Where we have the opportunity to have meaningful interface, that's good," she said.

The Slavic Christians have their First Amendment rights, Kessler said, "but people also have a right to feel safe."

Gretchen Bender regrets that moderates did not try to engage with the Slavic Christians when they arrived and "educate them about what it means to be an American." Now, she said, "it seems to me that the fundamentalist Slavic community is missing the point of what it is to be American. They've escaped persecution to persecute."

She continued: "They see it as the LGBT community trying to impose on them." And now, "it's hard to find a starting point."

Bender believes that the Slavic militants do not have the potential to attain power through the ballot box, but, can exercise considerable power by intimidation. "As a voting block, they're not so dangerous," she said. "They can't skew elections. But they're vocal and active, so they scare the politicians.

"The conservative and moderate politicians feel they have to appease them," Bender said, "and the moderate to progressive politicians also feel they have to moderate their opposition" in the face of the activism.



For earlier reports on SB 1437, please click here

Equality California

Equality California works for LGBT rights on a state level. To visit their website, please click here.

Governor vetoes gay teaching measure
He says current laws guard against discrimination

Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 2006

Sacramento -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have prohibited teaching or textbooks that negatively portray people based on sexual orientation, saying existing law already contains protections against discrimination.

The Republican governor's veto was not unexpected. He said he would reject the bill in its initial form when it required textbooks to include the political and cultural contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Continue.

Equality California Criticizes Governor's Veto Of Bias-Free Curriculum Act

Equality California, September 6, 2006

Sacramento, CA – Earlier today, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed Senate Bill 1437, the Bias-Free Curriculum Act, authored by Senator Shelia Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and sponsored by Equality California (EQCA). A simple nondiscrimination measure, SB 1437 would have extended existing laws prohibiting discrimination on the bases of race, sex, disability, nationality, and religion in textbooks, instructional materials, and school sponsored activities to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Continue.

Pro-Family Groups Hail Veto of California's Sexual Indoctrination Bills
Traditional Values Crowd Applauds Gov. Schwarzenegger's Termination of 'Triple Threat' Legislation

By Fred Jackson and Chad Groening, AgapePress, September 29, 2006

Pro-family groups in California and across the United States are celebrating Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Thursday veto of two pro-homosexual bills. The bills were two of three pieces of legislation regarded by pro-family leaders as "sexual indoctrination bills," which would have, among other things, mandated pro-homosexual policy and curriculum changes in the state's schools. Continue.

Clash of convictions
Slavic immigrants' crusade against homosexuality collides with gays' battle for acceptance, equal rights

By Dorothy Korber and Deepa Ranganathan, The Sacramento Bee, August 6, 2006

Thousands of religious refugees mass in the streets of Sacramento to shout "Shame!" Their targets, with their own history of persecution still fresh and raw, retort: "Go back to Russia!"

How did it come to this?

In the last few months, the growing conflict between Sacramento's Slavic Christians and its politically savvy gay community has erupted on campuses, at school board hearings, and on the grounds of the Capitol. Continue

Role reversal
Sacramento’s Slavic Christians fled persecution back home, but some are befuddled by their new country’s tolerance of gays

By Rachel Gregg, Sacramento News & Review, July 13, 2006

Over the last few months, the loudest voice against gay rights in Sacramento has been that of Sacramento’s Slavic Christian community. Outside of area high schools and on the steps of the Capitol, hundreds of Slavic families, many recent immigrants, have been gathering to protest what is considered a shameful secret in their home countries.

The irony is that they fled those countries after being persecuted for their own religious beliefs. Continue

Sex, politics and textbooks
California’s first openly gay legislator alters her controversial bill on schoolbooks and sexual orientation

By Stephen James, Sacramento News & Review, August 3, 2006

As originally written, Senator Sheila Kuehl’s Senate Bill 1437 would have modified textbooks to include the sexual orientation of certain historical figures, like Billie Jean King. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger likely would have vetoed the bill. Continue

California assembly scales back gay-inclusive textbook bill

AP, Advocate.com, August 8, 2006

The California assembly on Monday gutted a bill that would have required state textbooks to include the historical contributions of gay people, amending it to say only that school material should not be discriminatory toward gays. Lawmakers voted 56–2 to delete the provision at the request of the bill's author, Sen.Sheila Kuehl, who had feared a gubernatorial veto.

Her bill instead would prohibit any negative portrayal of gay people in textbooks and other instructional material, expanding current antidiscrimination laws that apply to minorities. "I'm not really someone who wants to plop something down on his desk for him to veto," said Kuehl, a Democrat from Santa Monica. "I want a signature." Continue

Anti-gay crusader joins with Russian evangelicals

By Malcolm Maclachlan, Capitol Weekly, May 25th, 2006

A longtime foe of gay causes has allied himself with a network of Slavic evangelical churches that claim thousands of members in the Sacramento area. The association and an increasingly active political stance by these churches has provided foot soldiers for anti-gay rallies at the Capitol and local high schools.

Dick Otterstad has stood outside a Wal-Mart in a Santa Claus suit to demand the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" and has picketed the house of Michael Newdow, the Roseville-area atheist who wants to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. He claims a political agenda calling not just for a ban on gay marriage but also the reinstatement of anti-sodomy laws and the abolition of public schools. Continue

Traditional Values Coaltion Action Alert

Email received August 7, 2006

This amendment is nothing more than a cheap political shell-game to tempt Governor Schwarzenegger to sign this despicable bill, which would openly advocate the promotion of the homosexual/transgender lifestyle while banning all religious viewpoints to the contrary! Continue

As Kuehl Scrambles, Pro-Family Californians Look Forward to Governor Schwarzenegger Vetoing SB 1437
Amended bill is still bad, requiring all California public schools to promote transsexual, bisexual, homosexual lifestyles to children as young as kindergarten

News release and action alert, Campaign for Children and Families, August 7, 2006

Sacramento, California – Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), a leading statewide pro-family organization, is calling upon Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep his promise to veto SB 1437 and other bills that directly or indirectly push sexual lifestyles upon schoolchildren. Continue

Campaign for Children and Families

Additional quotes from the organization's website

Touching hearts and minds in California and America, Campaign for Children and Families is standing up for the best values the world has ever known. We are strong advocates of marriage and family, parental rights, the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, financial freedom, and back-to-basics education. CCF is bold leadership that speaks to millions through the media, empowering citizens to make a difference, and urging lawmakers to respect and support family values....

Community Impact: CCF is about helping people make a difference right where they are, showing individuals how they can influence their community from their home, car or office. Training people how to clean up their neighborhoods and shape family-friendly schools, churches, grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations is our core vision. For all who desire change, CCF is here to help them achieve it. Click here