By Iliana Flores-Dumond
As of 2021, nearly 1 in 4 high school students in the U.S self-identify as LGBTQ+. So why is LGBTQ+ history not celebrated more in our public schools?
The increased visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people have allowed more LGBTQ+ youth to understand and embrace their own identities. With so many LGBTQ+ students in our schools, it is time we start building curriculum that reflects all of our history and culture. All students, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity should see themselves in the books they read, and the curriculum they learn.
LGBTQ+ people have played crucial roles throughout history. One example is Two-Spirit people, or members of some Indigenous tribes who are recognized as a third gender. There are accounts of Two-Spirit people in many different Indigenous communities, both historically and currently, who were often given crucial spiritual and leadership duties. Other examples are Pauli Murray, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin, who are three of the many Black LGBTQ+ people who shaped the Civil Rights Movement. Even when students learn about these LGBTQ+ figures in history, their gender and sexuality – and its impact on their lives and advocacy – are often ignored. The examples above only begin to illustrate the ways in which LGBTQ+ history is intrinsic to so many other parts of history.
Yet LGBTQ+ people are rarely represented in curriculum or in books. Only four states require LGBTQ+ history to be taught in K-12 classrooms, and as of 2017 only a little over 3% of children’s books feature LGBTQ+ characters or history. Without LGBTQ+ content in our classrooms or in our libraries, LGBTQ+ students don’t see themselves represented in schools or see their identities celebrated in their communities, while straight students lose the opportunity to learn more about their classmates and the diversity of the world around them
LGBTQ+ students also face a rise in discriminatory school policies, from book bans that restrict access to important LGBTQ+ narratives to bans on lifesaving healthcare to the censorship of youths’ identities in schools. Of all books banned in the U.S during the 2022-2023 school year, 30% feature LGBTQ+ characters and stories. This disproportionate attack on LGBTQ+ narratives harms students, preventing them from accessing the books they need most and sending a message to students that they aren’t welcome in their schools. Policies like the one passed in Katy ISD that force educators to inform parents of a student’s gender identity before students may be ready infringe on students’ ability to freely and safely express themselves. Students need schools that support them, not censor them and endanger them. The discriminatory practices today mirror those used to target LGBTQ+ people in the past. But LGBTQ+ advocates have resisted in the past and we will continue to do so in the present.
This LGBTQ+ history month, it’s time that we advocate for genuine representation in our local school districts. LGBTQ+ people have played crucial roles in history and will continue to do so for years to come. Schools should celebrate these figures all year-round, especially during LGBTQ+ history month. That could look like sending a letter to school administration about more LGBTQ+ representation in curriculum, requesting more LGBTQ+ books in school libraries, or asking for the school to host activities for students that celebrate LGBTQ+ history month. However you choose to advocate it’s time that we organize to make sure LGBTQ+ students everywhere have the support and opportunities they need to feel welcome in their schools.
Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas