Have you heard of George Washington? Thomas Paine? Most people in the U.S. would probably say yes, and could even go on to tell you how these people impacted United States history. However, most couldn’t tell you the first thing about Marsha P. Johnson, or Bayard Rustin. You might not know that they were queer, and as an unspoken rule, queer history is not taught in school.
LGBTQ+ history is a narrative that has been erased from classrooms for many years, something you may not even realize is causing harm to our society. When history is taught solely through a cisgender, heterosexual lens, it continues to stigmatize the entire concept of queerness, which by extension perpetuates homophobia both in schools and society. When taking classes like APUSH (AP United States History), it is crucial that students learn about the entire history of the U.S., not just the parts that are seen as socially acceptable. Erasure of important queer figures and events reinforces the idea that LGBT people don’t hold as high of value as the cishet members of society, which contributes to a deretmental mentality.
The absence of LGBTQ historical figures in school also makes it difficult for queer youth to find healthy role models. There is a great lack of queer representation in media, and when a T.V. show or movie features a gay character, they are more often than not made the butt of the joke, or represented in a setting solely about oppression. This makes it all the more important to include multitudes of history in our social studies classes.
Whenever we learn something new about queer histroy from combing through the internet on our own time it’s eye-opening and inspiring.
When LGBTQ+ teens don’t see themselves in their education, they often have a tendency to check out. There have even been studies done with results showing that LGBT students have higher odds of poor grade performance and truancy in school. As queer students ourselves, we can say with a passion that many of our classes would be infinitely more interesting with the inclusion of LGBTQ+ matters.
When we first learned about Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who was the openly gay man credited with creating America’s first professional military during the American revolutonary war, it was the first time in the nearly 13 years of education that we’ve heard a queer person mentioned. And it was amazing, we both finished the three minute and twenty five second video and launched into our own research. Whenever we learn something new about queer histroy from combing through the internet on our own time it’s eye-opening and inspiring. It moves us, and we are known for frequently freaking out to our friends by spamming them with articles over text about our new discoveries.
Even though we are both already studious and find time reading and researching to capture our attention, the presence of queer representation will help engage other students who have fallen out of learning assuming it doesn’t relate to them personally. Like how our friend, we’ll call him Milo, has probably never read a full prose novel outside of school in his life but was moved to purchase every book by an author after reading one of her novels that featured gay and bi main characters. When students can see themselves in what they are learning it is more likely they will be engaged and motivated to participate.
The inclusion of LGBT history in school curriculum is a necessity.
Currently, LGBT topics are taught – if at all – through a health class curriculum, along with other societally taboo topics such as STDs and drug addictions. Teaching the existence of queer people solely in this environment reinforces the idea among students that LGBTQ people are only relevant in terms of AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections. This isn’t a mentality we want students to have.
However, when queer history is taught in a social studies/history environment, it really humanizes queer people and their past. It helps kids understand that we are people too, with our own beliefs, and histories, and values, and that we truly have existed for centuries before Stonewall and AIDS. The normalization of the existence of LGBTQ+ people in history proves that sexuality and gender isn’t some new fad, or a phase to grow up and grow out of.
In totality, the inclusion of LGBT history in school curriculum is a necessity. Particularly for students who have grown up in homophobic households, school might be the only safe place for them to grow, and learn, and discover who they are. This is especially important for POC queer youth, who’s history has often also been erased from our education. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, there is frequent whitewashing of our history which perpetuates the belief that pride is for white people only. However, if our education were to include the history and importance of so many queer POCs, we could work on changing that belief.
Going into our junior year at Southwest High School, we are passionate and eager to fight for the right to equal representation for all groups and communities in our school curriculum, because we believe everyone deserves the right to be seen, and the right to be heard.