By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
OUR MISSION: The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education; to ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.
Supporting civil and human rights for all students, teachers and members of society is not new to CTA. It was among the first organizations to denounce the practice of segregated schools, to call for the passage of child labor laws, and to oppose the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. None of those causes were popular during their time, but CTA took a stand because it was the right thing to do.
Union members marched with César Chávez as he fought for the rights of farm workers. At the same time, CTA helped to establish schools for children of migrant workers, and in 1967 led the authorization of bilingual instruction classes for students still learning to speak English.
CTA opposed a ballot initiative in 1994 that would deny undocumented immigrants social services, health care and public education, and in 1996, CTA opposed Ward Connerly's initiative that abolished affirmative action in California colleges.
The association came out early against the Briggs initiative, California's Proposition 6 in 1978, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California's public schools.
CTA weighed in on marriage almost a century ago. One of CTA's radical victories came in 1927 when the state Supreme Court ruled that a school board couldn't fire a female teacher simply because she got married.
More recently, in November 2008, CTA State Council of Education voted to oppose Proposition 8, the initiative that eliminated equal marriage rights for one group of Californians.
"Our mission statement says we will do our best to create a more equitable and just society," says Myndi Hardgrave, vice president of the Hanford Secondary Educators Association and the Tulare/Kings Service Center Council chair. "This is clearly a human rights issue. We would have been remiss not to get involved."
The stance generated headlines and controversy. Some CTA members disagreed with the decision. Some members were grateful because they continue to face prejudice, discrimination and even hate crimes for who they are. Other members supported the decision for the betterment of public education, because their students continue to be bullied, harassed, assaulted and, sadly, even killed at school on the basis of their sexual orientation.
"I don't believe anyone should be discriminated against," says Travis Nelson of the Fairfield-Suisun Unified Teachers Association. "I am proud to belong to a union that supports equal rights for everyone."