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What Will LGBT History Classes In California Schools Actually Look Like?

On Thursday, the California State Board of Education unanimously approved a framework to implement the 2011 Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, a law requiring public schools to include LGBT people into history and social studies curriculums.

Considering that hate groups like said the FAIR Education Act would amount to ”sexual brainwashing”, we spoke with Don Romesburg, a committee director who helped develop the approved framework, about what the curriculum will actually look like.

Romesburg and his committee of 20 scholars — all who specialize in different areas of LGBT, U.S. and world history — went line-by-line through the state’s curriculum and suggested ways to incorporate LGBT material based on current research and age-appropriateness. You can read their full report, but what’s most interesting is their framework isn’t just about including famous LGBT historical figures but also getting students to think critically about family structures, gender roles and institutional oppressions throughout time.

So what will students be studying?

For example, students in the 2nd grade social studies classes will learn how LGBT families exist alongside families with adoptive parents, step-parents and parents who are immigrants. In 4th grade California history, students will learn about famous 19th century stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, a person who lived and dressed as a man but was discovered after death to have been biologically female.

Don Romesburg, California, LGBT, history, professor
Don Romesburg

“This is great time for critical thinking,”Romesburg said, “to get people to think about birth-assigned gender and why someone would dress like [a man] in the Gold Rush era of the West.”

5th grade Early American history classes will emphasize how two-spirit shamans and multi-parent families in indigenous American tribes changed as a result of colonization. In 8th grade, students of 19th century U.S. history will talk about how Blacks and women forged their own families in response to slavery and industrialization.

Social science electives for 9th graders will include mentions of famous lesbian and bisexual women in women’s history classes and famous queer people of color in ethnic studies classes) Modern world history classes for 10th graders will cover the persecution of gay people during the holocaust.

The 11th grade modern U.S. history classes will be the most ambitious and comprehensive as they’ll look at the evolution of modern LGBT communities throughout history (like during the Harlem Renaissance, WWII and the sexual liberation movement of the 1970s). They’ll also cover the persecution of sexual and gender minorities by the medical community, U.S. military, U.S. government, religious right, and throughout the AIDS epidemic and current LGBT court cases.

When will the material enter classrooms?

Romesburg said it could take until 2017 or even 2020. The next step is to train educators about how to incorporate LGBT material into their classes and to advocate for textbook and educational material providers to create LGBT-inclusive materials. California is a huge text book market and has a huge influence on the rest of the country’s textbook materials, so textbook producers have a strong financial incentive to create textbooks in line with California’s new standards, standards that will likely affect the textbooks of smaller states around the U.S..

As for claims of “sexual brainwashing”, Romesburg said, “It’s a contemporary reality that there’s an modern LGBT rights movement and that LGBT people exist. You don’t have to take a political view on whether you approve of that to know that it has a history and that history is something that all students should have access to.”

He added, “One of the things that’s most exciting is there are many educators in California that have been eager to include LGBT content in their teaching, but they haven’t know how. And this gives them a roadmap in a substantial way to do this in elementary, middle and high school. It’s utterly transformative and truly history making.”

(featured image via UMaine Student Life)