Kids Deserve Queer History

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Kids Deserve Queer History by Alex Berman - Photo by Sonja Lippmann

For too long, queer voices have been left out of history books. On July 14, 2011, California lawmakers signed into law an act that would change this, and set loose an avalanche of conversation that continues to this day. California’s Fair Act required all publicly funded schools to include LGBTQ history in the curriculum, and as of July 2020, three other states have passed similar legislation, and even more are drafting their own. The existence of historical figures’ same-sex partners are often ignored, despite their having no less right to be in the history books as their heterosexual counterparts, and the stories and achievements of transgender figures are almost always unrecognized. A curriculum that included queer history would incorporate the often-erased stories of queer historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, and important moments in the struggle for queer liberation, like the 1969 Stonewall uprising. It’s a hard and uphill battle, but a vital one both for the sake of historical accuracy and the well-being of students.

The purpose of these bills is not, as conservative journalist Joy Pullmann wrote in The Federalist, to “indoctrinate” or “propagandize” American youth, but rather to provide accurate representation. People like Victoria Jakelsky, as said in her interview with the Daily Wire claim that lawmakers “are twisting it around to say that…gay and lesbian and bisexual people are the history-makers,” but no twisting need be done. There are countless historical figures who are rumored or confirmed to be queer, and countless movements and events that, if included in history books, would patch up several holes in our country’s knowledge. From a purely academic perspective, excluding queer voices and events leaves our history incomplete.

Moving beyond the obvious merits of truth-telling, LGBTQ representation could very well save students’ lives, or at least make them more bearable. Queer youth are particularly vulnerable to suicide, often a direct result of not feeling seen or accepted in their communities. Including LGBTQ figures in history lessons, without obscuring the fact of their queerness, would remind everyone that being queer is not a fad or trend, but something that has existed since humans have. And teaching about LGBTQ movements and events would shine a light on some little known heroes. Queer kids deserve to be taught that they were “history-makers” too.

Maryland is one of the states currently developing legislation, and the backlash has been enormous. According to Greg Quinlan, founder of conservative advocacy group Center for Garden State Families in New Jersey, when laws like this are passed, “parental rights are being raped.” The Washington Post reports that many conservative parents share the view that “lessons regarding sexuality and gender should be taught by parents in the home—not by teachers in public schools.” This would make sense if the lessons being taught pertained to werewolves and vampires, goblins and ghosts. The fact that gay and transgender people exist and have existed throughout history is undeniable. Schools should not hide the truth from their students under the guise of respecting parental rights.

Indeed, the treatment of LGBTQ history as a “sensitive” subject is incredibly harmful to current members of this community. It conveys the message that to be queer is shameful, and perpetuates the myth that someone can be “turned” gay or transgender, rather than being born with a brain that dictates this. The idea that this subject is inappropriate for children also has the effect of over-sexualizing and demonizing queer people, suggesting that to mention a non-cis gender or non-straight orientation is to talk about sex. What many conservative activists cannot seem to comprehend is that being queer isn’t inherently sexual.

Although this undoubtedly was not her purpose, Victoria Jakelsky perfectly articulates this point. “When you teach about George Washington, you don’t teach that George Washington had sex with his wife,” she said, “we teach what George Washington did as a president.” While this is true, we all know that George Washington had a wife, Martha, and by the same logic history should teach us if he had a boyfriend. This is precisely how LGBTQ history is intended to be taught under these new acts, the only difference being that historically significant figures and couples that happen to be homosexual would be included in the curriculum.

This legislation is vital in teaching American youth that people like them have changed history, and will continue to do so no matter the efforts of those who try to erase them.

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