LGBT-inclusive curriculum will make schools smarter, safer
A bill that requires New Jersey middle school and high school students to be taught the political, economic and social contributions of notable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout history was signed into law this month by Gov. Phil Murphy. The bill, the second of its kind in the U.S., was passed mostly along party lines in the state Senate and Assembly, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. The case for the law is made here by Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality. The opposing view is presented by Len Deo, founder and president of NJ Family First.
Alan Turing is widely known as the father of modern computers after developing the theoretical framework for programmable computations.
He also helped secure victory in World War II — likely saving millions of lives — with his breakthrough decoder machines that unraveled German war secrets at record speed.
Most people know that.
But few know that Turing took his life with cyanide at just 41 years old after the British government arrested him for being gay, chemically castrated him and attempted to “cure” him with hormones.
Our schools celebrate Turing’s contributions to computer science and World War II. Why don’t we discuss the historical and political persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that pushed Turing to death? We cannot and should not separate the two.
Just as we honor the contributions of women, people of color and immigrants — all of whom have faced seemingly insurmountable barriers throughout history — we should honor those in the LGBTQ community who have persevered to make our nation and our world a better place.
These are stories worth telling, and there are many more.
New Jersey’s own Babs Siperstein, the late transgender activist and icon, was a trailblazer for marriage equality, non-discrimination protections and the recent transgender civil rights law bearing her name. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera ignited the Stonewall Riots. Harvey Milk was one of the first openly LGBTQ elected officials in the nation.
Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Sally Ride were all celebrated in their fields. And let’s not forget Bayard Rustin — Martin Luther King’s closest adviser and right-hand man— without whom the March on Washington would never have happened. He organized it.
Including these figures in our textbooks doesn’t change our history. It makes our history complete.
Gay and transgender students deserve to see these figures and their stories reflected throughout history. These individuals stand as inspirational symbols to every student that they too can achieve great things in the world. If we fail to include the full identities of LGBTQ people in our education, what message are we sending to our children — whether they are gay or straight — about the place of LGBTQ people in society? We should be long past telling people to hide who they are or who they love.
Some have argued that incorporating these stories will disrupt the classroom, but LGTBQ history in schools is nothing new. A similar law has been in place in California since 2012, and many schools across the country and in New Jersey have already voluntarily elected to incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. The results, not surprisingly, have meant safer and more inclusive schools for our gay and transgender youth.
A recent GLSEN report showed that LGBTQ students were nearly half as likely to experience victimization in schools where inclusive curriculum was available. Similarly, reports of homophobic slurs and negative remarks declined across the board, and students were more than twice as likely to intervene on another student’s behalf when they witnessed anti-LGBTQ remarks. However, in schools lacking an inclusive curriculum, students were 14 percent more likely to skip a day of school.
And while New Jersey has one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country, reports of victimization are still high: half of LGBTQ students experienced some type of discrimination and nearly 90 percent reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks. Worse, nearly a fifth of students reported hearing school staff make derogatory remarks. Clearly, developing an affirming culture that works beyond the letter of the law is critical to developing safer schools.
That’s why the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force recommended integration of diversity education throughout the yearlong curriculum instead of infrequent assemblies that singularly focus on broad topics of inclusion. In response, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum won broad bipartisan support: last year the bill passed with a 52-vote majority in the Assembly and 27-vote majority in the Senate. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle approved the bill, including Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset, and Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth.
It’s worth noting that New Jersey’s LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum law also protects local control. Every individual board of education will develop curriculum suited to their school district. That process will happen — just as it does with every other topic and subject across the state — in collaboration with parents, educators and administrators. That’s common sense and fair.
We have a responsibility to our students to portray the full scope of history. LGBTQ people are a fundamental part of America’s story, and our nation grows when we embrace our diversity rather than hide from it. Classrooms should reflect and celebrate that.
Implementing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum also means our students will be better informed and, more importantly, our schools will be safer. As we’ve seen in schools with inclusive curriculum, this law will expand minds, inspire youth and build bridges. Just as New Jersey was a national leader in combating the bullying epidemic plaguing our schools, we can be a leader in developing inclusive education that creates affirming environments and safer schools.
Christian Fuscarino is the executive director of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBTQ advocacy and education organization with over 150,000 members.