LGBTQ History Will Now Be Taught In California Public Schools

The past few months have seen no shortage of ups and downs for the LGBTQ community, from the Orlando shooting and state-sanctioned discrimination against trans people in North Carolina, to the repeal of the Pentagon’s transgender ban and the creation of Stonewall into a national monument. However, for all the modern challenges to LGBTQ rights that still exist, it’s worth noting how far we’ve come. Setting an example for the rest of the nation, California public schools will teach LGBTQ history following a unanimous vote by the California State Board of Education on Thursday.

The board voted in favor of a new History-Social Science Framework across all grade levels, which will involve integrating lessons about everything from the emergence of LGBTQ advocacy groups in the 1950s, to the historical contributions of LGBTQ people in society, to their struggles for societal acceptance and basic rights like marriage and the right to teach. Additionally, the board voted to ban classroom materials that “reflect adversely on gays or particular religions,” according to the Associated Press.

This new framework reflects legislation passed in 2012 calling on California schools to include LGBTQ Americans and people with disabilities to the list of groups whose contributions must be taught in elementary and middle grade history classes. This legislation, known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, required better representation of the LGBTQ community and all minorities in history classes.

While the California State Board of Education’s new framework for history and social science classes has received the most attention with regard to its new emphasis on LGBTQ history, it’s worth noting this framework will be more inclusive of “the role of contributions” of all minority groups. Public testimony ahead of the vote included wide discussion and criticism of portrayals of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Japan’s use of “comfort women” in World War II, all topics that could see change in California public school curriculum in the future.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality California has praised the board’s decision to better represent “figures important to the LGBT movement.” Students like Allyson Chiu of Cupertino High School told the AP learning LGBTQ history in school would both help LGBTQ students feel more comfortable, as well as address widespread ignorance about a group that remains so frequently misrepresented and misunderstood. “My classmates can solve quadratic equations or cite the elements on the periodic table. They can’t tell you who Harvey Milk was or the significance of the Stonewall riots,” Chiu said.

Naturally, however, as we are yet to live in a perfect world where LGBTQ rights remain unchallenged, not everyone is happy with these changes. The Los Angeles Times reports “more than 10,000 email comments to the California Department of Education between December 2015 and the end of February 2016″ were made criticizing the proposal to include LGBTQ history. The AP reports conservative groups have argued “it should be up to parents” to determine when and how to discuss sexual orientation with their children.

This argument really only highlights a complete double standard in perceptions of straight and LGBTQ figures among many conservatives. Public schools can teach about famous straight white men to no end, while LGBTQ historical figures remain so controversial that lessons about them must be reserved to the privacy of students’ homes. Similarly, Virginia public schools faced backlash late last year when students were taught about the calligraphy of historical Islamic civilizations.

Don Romesburg, framework director for the Committee on LGBT History, said in a statement shared by The Los Angeles Times: “[The new framework] allows all students to think critically and expansively about how that past relates to the present and future roles that they can play in an inclusive and respectful society.”

San Francisco Host Its Annual Gay Pride Parade
CREDIT: Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Essentially, the struggles of and contributions made by LGBTQ historical figures and the movement as a whole form a substantial part of American history. To understand society today, young people have to learn LGBTQ history. Aside from the general awesomeness that is not being ignorant, this new curriculum will hopefully inspire more compassion toward the LGBTQ community from young people than previous generations have shown.