October 13, 2021 | 0 comments
On the Importance of LGBTQ History and Why We Celebrate
Why it's crucial to teach queer history not only during LGBTQ History Month, but the rest of the year, too.
Remember the Struggles of the Past
On June 26, 2015, a warm sunny day in Washington, D.C., history turned a new corner in the United States. I, along with other interns in the organization where I worked, burst out the front door, released early from work, to herald the news that the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges had been decided and legal gay marriage was now the law of the land.
Arriving at our nation’s highest court and being greeted by throngs of supporters spilling across the streets, we danced and sang with the thousands of people celebrating the news that the struggle for equality in the U.S. had taken a massive leap forward. We buzzed with excitement, viewing the decision as a prescient sign of the beginning of a long path of progressive victories that would propel us into a new era.
That summer came and went, as did the budding hopes and desires for a more fair, equitable future. Decisions in our highest court are in danger of being made toothless in the face of a new onslaught against LGBTQ rights that includes appointments of anti-LGBTQ judges and attacks against the LGBTQ community in the workplace, in schools, in healthcare, and in housing.
Considering this, there has never been a more critical time to teach our students the importance of LGBTQ History Month in the face of an abrogation of rights we’ve fought for and gained over the years. And although some of us—especially the white cis-gendered gay community— experienced a fleeting sense of safety over the past few years, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that before, during and after Obergefell, the Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color in the queer community have never felt that same degree of safety. Transgender folk, especially Black and Latinx transgender women who pioneered the movements that laid the foundation for many of the freedoms we enjoy today, are murdered and go missing at an alarming rate.
Why Teach LGBTQ History Month
The team at AFT Share My Lesson works for educators, school staff and parents around the year creating and curating educational resources to help students better understand LGBTQ History Month. A robust collection of free history resources can help teach students and communities about the important contributions of the queer community and that the struggle for equity and justice doesn’t end with the pounding of a gavel. Here are selected resources with key concepts and teaching ideas from our collection of LGBTQ History resources:
Let’s Get It Right: Using Correct Pronouns and Names, ADL
Help students understand the evolution and importance of pronoun and name use and how misnaming can feel disrespectful to all, especially transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people. Educators will also find practical suggestions to learn and use students’ correct pronouns and names.
A Place in the Middle
Learn about the true story of an 11-year-old Hawaiian girl who dreams of leading the hula troupe at her inner-city Honolulu school. This award-winning short film, together with the classroom discussion guide and online resources, provides an opportunity for students to think and talk about the values of diversity and inclusion, the power of knowing your heritage, and how to create a school climate of “Aloha.”
Bayard Rustin: Gay Hero of the Civil Rights Movement, The Legacy Project
This lesson plan explores the life and work of Bayard Rustin, the unsung and openly gay hero of the Black civil rights movement. As both a student of Gandhi and a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., Rustin's life embodied what would come to be known as “rainbow politics.” With his career in social justice spanning more than five decades, Rustin’s impact reached its zenith when he was tapped to become the architect of the National March on Washington in 1963.
Stonewall Outloud: Personal Accounts of the Riots, StoryCorps
Few personal accounts or archival material from the Stonewall riots actually exist. This resource offers a fresh account of those fateful nights through rare recordings unearthed from the archives of StoryCorps, featuring people who were there as the uprising began 50 years ago.
Understanding Bullying, Language and Literature, Speak Truth to Power
Bullying is an ongoing burden many LGBTQ students have to experience in schools, their communities, and at home. With this lesson, students will learn how language contributes to perpetuating and to preventing bullying, understand the impact one person standing up to a bully has, and more.
LGBTQ History Timeline Lesson, GLSEN
Use this timeline lesson to teach students about important leaders and events throughout LGBTQ American history. This activity allows for the sharing of these often untold stories and also facilitates a much needed discussion about the erasure of LGBTQ history and the value of critical thinking in history classes.
Gladys Bentley: Gender-Bending Harlem Renaissance Performer and Musician, UNLADYLIKE2020
Learn about the trailblazing gender nonconforming performer Gladys Bentley with this free digital short and lesson plan with accompanying primary and secondary resources. In a time when homosexuality was widely considered deviant, Bentley wore men’s clothing and became famous for her lesbian-themed lyrics covering popular tunes of the day. Constantly reinventing herself, Bentley challenged norms and pushed boundaries.
Celebrating Pride Month: Stories of Queer History, Listenwise
This blog is an excellent resource for educators and students looking to learn more about queer history through podcasts.
Advocating for Transgender Inclusion in High School Athletics, GLSEN
Fifty-six percent of LGBTQ team members and 66 percent of team leaders competing in high school sports report feeling a positive sense of belonging at school. The ability to participate fully in school life is critical for transgender students’ well-being during adolescence. Despite this, many states and school districts struggle with the issue of transgender inclusion in athletics. Use this advocacy guide to support trans student athletes in your community.
Building a Better Future
Although we have made recent strides in designing more inclusive school curricula in the United States, we still lag behind other education systems. Recently, Scotland became the first country to embrace an LGBTQ-inclusive education curriculum. So why does it matter that a country institutes an inclusive curriculum that supports all students? The Trevor Project estimates that at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health shows that a more LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum produces lower odds that LGBTQ students will experience school-based victimization and adverse mental health.
Representation matters. Preferred pronouns and names matter. The ability for queer youth to be able to know they are normal, they are loved, and to be able to see representation in all facets of life, not just on TV, but in literature, music, art, history, and, in fact, all subjects is not only crucial for raising awareness but also for saving the lives of our students and children.
It is essential that we as educators, parents, school staff and general allies find ways to build strong community connections with our students and their peers to develop mutual understanding and respect. Together, we can make a difference so people who are LGBTQ have a sense of belonging in our past, present and future.
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