Op-Ed: Teaching LGBTQ+ History in Schools Benefits All Students

Max Crossan | May 6, 2019 | Opinion
‘It is impossible to teach a comprehensive course on American or world history without including the contributions and hardships of LGBTQ+ people’

Max Crossan
LGBTQ+ history is American history. Teaching students about the contributions to society of LGBTQ+ people like Audre Lorde and Sally Ride is not “indoctrination,” despite claims made in a recent article by The Christian Post about a new New Jersey law that makes LGBTQ+ history a mandatory part of school curriculums.

For many LGBTQ+ students, school is a source of isolation, bullying and, invalidation. Years of research has shown that LGBT+ students face harassment and bullying from their peers at a higher level than other students. This bullying hinders LGBTQ+ students’ ability to learn and leads to heightened levels of depression and suicide.

It is impossible to teach a comprehensive course on American or world history without including the contributions and hardships of LGBTQ+ people. Any lesson on important social movements around the world is incomplete without talking about the continuing push for LGBTQ+ rights worldwide. Lessons on human-rights injustices in history and today cannot be considered comprehensive if they exclude the plights faced by LGBTQ+ people across cultures. Important Black History Month lessons cannot exclude the contributions of LGBTQ+ black Americans like Bayard Rustin, and Marsha P. Johnson.

Teaching students about the importance of these people and movements is not a form of indoctrination, it’s ensuring that they receive an accurate education. Religious exceptions in New Jersey exist only for sexual education and there is nothing inherently sexual about LGBTQ+ history. The continued sexualization of the LGBTQ+ community by many clearly shows why inclusive curriculums are necessary in reducing these biases and misconceptions from a young age.

Big impact on reducing bullying

Research has shown that LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculums have proven successful in California, the first state to introduce legislation like the current New Jersey bill. LGBTQ+ students in schools with inclusive curriculums reported feeling 15 percent safer due to reduced bullying. Every metric of bullying and harassment was lower in schools with inclusive curriculums, which is essential for the well-being of LGBTQ+ students.

These lower incidences of harassment can be traced directly to reduced ignorance in non-LGBTQ+ students as a result of these lessons. Younger students are more open to new ideas and teaching them about influential LGBTQ+ people in history can lead to important conversations about topics like pronouns. These lessons are also affirming to LGBTQ+ people that their identities are important and valid to their peers and educators. For students who are beginning to understand or questioning their own identities, it is reassuring to learn about people like you.

As a student who spent many years through middle and high school coming to terms with my sexuality, it would have been extremely meaningful to me to learn about people like me who made important contributions to society. Implementing a more inclusive curriculum is one of the clearest ways a school can tell its LGBTQ+ population that they are valid and respected, which can lead to overall feelings of safety if cases of bullying do arise. If my school district had dedicated time to affirming the validity of LGBTQ+ people throughout history, I would have faced less bullying from my peers that largely stemmed from ignorance.

All students benefit from attending schools with LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculums. Bullying metrics in California were decreased in these schools for all students and for straight students alone. This is largely a result of inclusive curriculums creating a more open environment for all students at school. Students use the word “gay” as an insult and rely on gender identity when bullying non-LGBTQ+ students as well.

Benefits for all students

Teaching LGBTQ+ history and having conversations about what it means to be LGBTQ+ allows students to reflect on their own actions. It also opens the floor for more general conversations about different identities, and schools can incorporate LGBTQ+-specific issues into existing anti-bullying and respect programming that the schools put on for all students.

LGBTQ+ history is also intersectional with women’s history, black history, etc., and collaborative programming for these groups will benefit everyone involved.

A 2015 Rutgers study showed that contact with LGBTQ+ individuals reduced biases and increased support for LGBTQ+ rights amongst straight and cisgender participants. These results further highlight that exposure to LGBTQ+ topics is a powerful way to reduce bullying towards LGBTQ+ students.

Inclusive curriculums are proven to benefit safety for all students, which should be a paramount concern for schools. Seven states currently have laws that ban the “promotion of homosexuality” in the classroom and these states have much higher rates of bullying against LGBTQ+ students than the national average. This New Jersey law is an important step forward for student safety and inclusion in the classroom. We cannot afford to move backward on this issue to protect the claims of religious parents that are rooted in misconceptions about LGBTQ+ issues.