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LGBTQ+ History Should be Mandatory in Schools

Radical Ideas: #32 School Curriculum

50 Radical Ideas: Queer students should be taught to know themselves and the brilliant legacy that they’re a part of.

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers in South Dakota introduced a series of bills that would have made life harder for transgender students. One of them, House Bill 1108, would have prohibited public school teachers in kindergarten through seventh grade from talking about gender dysphoria in the classroom, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to discuss transness with their students in an honest, affirming, and informative way. That bill failed to become law, as did the other anti-trans legislation that entered the South Dakota Legislature that session, but the regulation of queerness in the classroom continues elsewhere in the country.

In seven states, it is forbidden by law for public school teachers to talk about LGBTQ+ subject matter in a positive way -- sometimes even at all. Health classes in Alabama, for example, "must emphasize...that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public," while South Carolina has banned the discussion of "alternative sexual lifestyles," i.e., anything but heterosexuality. These "No Promo Homo" laws -- so-called because they often explicitly prohibit the "promotion of homosexuality" -- are usually intended for health and sex education classes, but they're often misapplied to prevent queer themes from entering the greater academic curriculum and extracurricular student groups, further stigmatizing queer students through ignorance and silence.

Thankfully, some educators have taken the matter into their own hands, creating textbooks and other resources that will help queer students better understand themselves and where they come from, like Introduction to Transgender Studies by Ardel Haefele-Thomas, the chair of the Department of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the City College of San Francisco. "I wish I'd had something like this book when I was growing up," trans historian and author Susan Stryker writes in the foreword. "At a moment in history when so many things seem to be getting worse the whole world over, it's nice to see some things moving in a direction that feels better. [This book] is one of those better-feeling things."

This is one of our 50 Radical Ideas, featured in Out's June/July 2019 issue celebrating Stonewall 50. The three covers feature the enduring legacy of activist Sylvia Rivera, the complicated candidacy of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and the triumphant star power of actress Mj Rodriguez. To read more, grab your own copy of the issue on Kindle, Nook, Zinio or (newly) Apple News+ today. Preview more of the issue here and click here to subscribe.

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