A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Requirement: LGBT inclusiveness in schools

Beginning in this fall, California will be the first state to teach students from kindergarten through eighth grade about the contributions to society from the LGBTQ+ community.  The key component in including the LGBTQ+ community in school curriculum is by accepting books that are inclusive of people within this community.  California school systems will be following the FAIR Education Act to put this into action.

The FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law in 2011, states that no one is to be excluded out of curriculum based on orientation or disability.

Although California is one of the more liberally-progressive states, some  organizations, such as The National Center for Law and Policy, that support the conservation of religious freedom and traditional marriage have urged parents not to accept the new textbooks implemented.

Personally identifying as gay, when I heard of California’s new proposal I was very excited. I wondered how much progress has been made to include people who have intentionally kept out of lessons on contributions to American society.

“I think history shows the more you sweep things under the rug, the more of a problem it becomes,” said English teacher Ms. Olfky.  “So if we educate our children on LGBT issues, it becomes mainstream and when it becomes mainstream, it becomes the norm just like everything else. When you leave it out, it’s a detriment to the child.”

When content is forgotten or not even covered, students know little about the history of the community that has made these contributions or the struggles that they suffered.

By leaving communities out of instruction and conversation, we cause harm to those people by simply not acknowledging that they are people with opinions, with voices, with extremely large effects on our community.

Would LGBTQ students actually benefit from seeing familiar faces and learning about people from their community in a classroom setting?

“That’s like saying would an African American child benefit from seeing people who look like them on the big screen,” said Ms. Olfky.  “Absolutely yes.”

In PGCPS, more work has to be done to include students of all backgrounds and make them feel comfortable at school.

Growing up closeted, I was never really able to see role models who would have shown me the great work that not only my Spanish heritage had but also the other part my personal self, since we were never introduced to it.

This held me back and kept me from seeing myself as a person who was normal and like others.  Since the LGBTQ community wasn’t in textbooks to educate youth, many people used derogatory language to hurt individuals who identified as LGBT, something I experienced first-hand throughout elementary and middle school.

When children are educated on people in who they see themselves and are shown what great works their people have done, it promotes self-respect and honor, something any minority can look up to and feel proud of their background.

“I think that [including the LGBTQ community in curriculum] would change the tunnel vision that many people have and stigmas that they have in their mind of what LGBT means,” said Ms. Olfky.  “I think that it can only be helpful.”

Often times, people’s exposure to the LGBTQ community is just on the big screen, which is often made up of pure stereotypes and conceived notions.  People see Pride Parades, but the community is so much more than that. We hold pride in our heritage, in our people, in our struggle, in our beliefs, in our humanity.

Students also agree that incorporating the LGBTQ community into school curriculum could be really beneficial overall.

“Students should be educated on LGBT issues so that students should be aware of what is going on in the community,” said senior Jasmine Ramirez. “But when it comes to more sensitive topics such as sex ed, I think you would need to get parental consent. It should be treated as any other sex ed class.”

She brings up a good point. Personally when I was in my health issues class and we talked about sexual education, we didn’t talk about safe sex for LGBT couples or their significance.  While it may have been very briefly mention, it was a bit dusty and not well covered.

I agree with the fact that we need parental consent to teach sexual education, just as we have had for years in teaching the traditional methods. By treating LGBTQ sex education as any other sex education class, we don’t discriminate against students who identify with the community and we would help educate others, all while making it an equal space where we all learn about each others’ differences.

College Park Mayor, Patrick L. Wojahn knows the effects of feeling like an outsider in school because of his sexual orientation.

“I did not come out as gay until after I graduated high school and went to college,” said Wojahn.. “I felt in high school that I would have been personally at risk from my classmates if I had come out. Homophobia was rampant at the time – people make crass and homophobic jokes about LGBT people and openly said homophobic things both inside and outside of class.”

The lack of inclusion in the classroom kept Wojahn from seeing people like him who were successful and who could achieve and succeed like everyone else he studied in school.

“It was never discussed in grade school, and certainly never in a positive way,” he said. “I had no role models who were openly LGBT that I could look up to. Thankfully, things have changed significantly since then.”

Things have changed.

Since grade school up until middle school, many crude remarks were made and being a closeted individual, it made me feel seperated from my classmates. When I entered high school, however, there was much more acceptance, and  progress continues to be made.

Though many may be opposed to teaching children the contributions of the LGBT community, the point is very simple: schools must teach students about the community, simply our contributions and our characters define who we are, not the stereotypes we are given.

But for now,, you go CALIFORNIA! Set the standards for American students to be educated on all individuals.