California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) weighed in Saturday after three Southern California school board members managed to block an updated social studies curriculum from being formally approved because it included material about gay rights icon Harvey Milk.
Temecula Valley School Board member Danny Gonzalez first prompted objections from community members gathered to watch the meeting by saying that Milk’s “lifestyle choices” were “wildly inappropriate” and calling him a “pedophile.”
The school board president, Joseph Komrosky, agreed with the characterization, claiming that including Milk in the curriculum amounted to “activism.”
“My question is, why even mention a pedophile?” Komrosky asked at one point.
“An offensive statement from an ignorant person,” Newsom later responded in a tweet alongside a story about the incident.
“This isn’t Texas or Florida. In the Golden State, our kids have the freedom to learn. Congrats Mr. Komrosky you have our attention,” the governor tweeted, adding, “Stay tuned.”
The school board meeting took place on May 16 but only began receiving attention from local news media this week. During one emotionally charged moment, Komrosky threatened to throw disrupters out of the room; three women in the front row stood and left at the same time.
The 3-2 vote against the new classroom material, which had been approved by the state, leaves the Temecula Valley Unified School District in potential violation of California laws on textbook compliancy. The district said in a statement to KABC, a local outlet, that it was extending the window for parental feedback on textbook materials and communicating with officials at the county and state levels on the issue.
Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, became one of the first openly gay men to be elected to public office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He is only mentioned in supplemental materials, not the main textbook.
Gonzalez said the materials were intended for fourth graders.
As school board candidates, Gonzalez and Komrosky, along with member Jennifer Wiersma, received backing from the conservative Christian Inland Empire Family PAC.
They are part of a conservative movement to influence what children are taught about race and gender in school, which critics say amounts to whitewashing history and erasing marginalized groups.
School board member Allison Barclay argued that Milk was part of history because he “got the ball rolling” on advocating for federally protected classes of people.
“It’s history. If you look at many historical figures, many that we all love and hold near and dear to our hearts, they were not perfect,” Barclay said.
Following protocol, the district already implemented a pilot program with the materials, handing them out to around 1,300 kids to bring home. Parents were also given the chance to comment on the new materials through a survey, but very few actually responded.
The pedophilia accusation against Milk, the subject of a critically acclaimed 2008 biopic, appears to stem from a 1982 biography that says Milk lived with a teen boy in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s when he was in his 30s.