In August, Illinois passed a law requiring public schools to incorporate LGBTQIA+ history into their curricula. It’s the third state to pass such legislation this year, following New Jersey in February and Colorado in May. California has had a similar law in place since 2011.
The 2017 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey found that 64.8 percent of students aged 13-21 have never been exposed to any LGBTQIA+ related topics in their classes. The same study showed that students attending schools with LGBTQIA+ inclusive curriculums heard fewer derogatory remarks aimed at their sexual orientations or gender expressions.
Education is about expanding worldviews. Mandating a diverse curriculum makes the classroom a safer, more inclusive and engaging space. By acknowledging figures and events of LGBTQIA+ history, institutions acknowledge the experiences and validity of queer students.
Beyond history classes, sex education and health curricula need to focus on topics beyond those relevant to cisgender, heterosexual individuals. Required reading lists for English classes should include more literature written by queer authors and focused on queer characters.
LGBTQIA+ classes also need to be more accessible in higher education. The Lionel Cantú Queer Center’s list of LGBTQIA+ related courses lists about 50 undergraduate courses, and only four of those are lower division courses. Only a limited number of these classes are offered every quarter, and enrollment is often restricted to students majoring in the given subject area or those with junior or senior standing.
As UC Santa Cruz students, we can advocate for more lower division classes relating to gender, identity and sexuality so that education about those topics is more accessible to the larger student body. We should further voice the need for these classes to be taught by queer faculty.
Topics relating to the LGBTQIA+ community can’t be considered taboo in the classroom. They shouldn’t be niche matters that students have to go out of their way to learn about.
While there are four states pioneering the way toward an LGBTQIA+ inclusive education for students, that means there are still 46 states that need to catch up. There are even six states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas — that prohibit any positive discussion of LGBTQIA+ matters in schools, though Utah and Arizona have repealed laws like this in the last two years.
We can send messages to representatives from those six states urging them to repeal such legislation. Within California, we can support the FAIR Education Act and encourage our state government to provide funding to public schools for updated, approved textbooks that are inclusive of LGBTQIA+ topics.
We can’t ignore the contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community and forget what they fought for and continue to fight for. Representation in education is vital to validating students’ identities. If education isn’t inclusive, it’s incomplete.