LGBTQ History in Public Schools Is the Next Gay Rights Frontier says PhD studentHistorians in the News
tags: gay history, LGBT
Last month, California became the first state to include LGBTQ history in its public school curriculum, with the passage of "a new History-Social Science Framework that includes 'a study of the role of contributions' of minority groups, including 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans,'" as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
California has shown an unusual willingness to be on the right side of history when it comes to how we teach the subject. While "spirited debate" accompanied the state's decision to include LGBTQ history in its curriculum, the state superintendent of public instruction ultimately announced it as a "big win for our students." The new history standards were only made possible by a 2012 law known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which mandated the inclusion of historic contributions by the LGBTQ community, the disabled and other minority groups in public curricula. It took until this year for the new curricula to undergo public comment and finally see approval.
"History should be honest," California governor Jerry Brown said at the the law's signing. And it should be—on a national scale. But California is the first and only state to include LGBTQ history in its content standards. Similar battles have failed in states and cities like New Jersey and New York, and at least eight states have enacted laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people in sexual education curricula. Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ and HIV-rights legal group, notes that "schools and teachers may misapply these laws, in practice, as barring more than they actually do"—meaning that schools in states like Utah, whose Code § 53A-13-101 prohibits health instruction that includes "the advocacy of homosexuality," may extend such a prohibition to other areas of instruction, like history and social studies.
States other than California have shown a preternatural ability to bungle the teaching of minority history. While the California mandate drew a predictable outcry from conservative media outlets like Breitbart, with right-wing bloggers raising objections about the idea of teaching LBGTQ history to second graders, many children at that age are already learning that slavery wasn't the main cause of the Civil War—in Texas, children learn it was caused by "sectionalism, states' rights, and slavery," in that order.
In six states, the internationally recognized Advanced Placement history curricula has been challenged because lawmakers claim it shows "liberal bias." Similarly, "religious freedom" has been invoked to justify discrimination within school curricula before, or to allow parents to opt out or censor books; for example, in North Carolina, a teacher was encouraged to resign simply for reading a picture book in which a prince falls in love with another prince. This discrimination and fear bleeds over into basic classroom interactions and feeds our reluctance to challenge exclusionary curricula.
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