Gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have, over the years, made history and significant contributions in America even in the midst of people and societies that discriminated against them.
From literature, dance, theatre, and comedy to activism, these personalities have paved the way for many others and even ended up as cultural icons through their work.
Some of their works have, however, been heavily criticized because of their sexualities. This is likely to change as American states seem to be gradually seeing the need to highlight those achievements by allowing content related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in the curricula of public schools.
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This February, New Jersey became the second state in the nation after California to allow schools to teach about LGBT history, a move that has been commended by activists.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who had championed equality for gay and transgender people, signed into law the measure that will kickstart next year.
“Under the measure, public schools must include lessons about the political, economic and social contributions of individuals who are gay and transgender, starting in the 2020-21 school year. The bill also requires teaching about contributions of people who are disabled,” reports USA Today.
The law, which does not apply to private schools, has been hailed by civil rights groups who believe that students would receive a complete history of the United States and would feel more included in school.
“Our youth deserve to see how diverse American history truly is – and how they can be a part of it one day, too,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of the advocacy group Garden State Equality.
By teaching about LGBT communities in schools, students will feel more connected, which will help their mental health and ability to learn, Kathryn Dixon, Northern New Jersey policy coordinator for GLSEN added.
Concerns have, however, been raised as to the kind of decisions local school boards will make regarding what to study, which books to read, and what kind of lessons to teach about which subjects.
Dixon believes that the lessons shouldn’t be only limited to the history of the gay rights movement, but should also include everyday examples of LGBT individuals and families across subjects.
“Were I asked to suggest what ought to be in the curriculum, I’d say the postwar rise of the gay rights movement and its debt to the African American civil rights movement would be a good place to start.
“I’d talk about how our community fought for its life during an AIDS crisis that President Ronald Reagan, a.k.a. the Great Communicator, spoke not one public word about during the epidemic’s first five years.
“I’d want students to learn about the battle for marriage equality, which would not have been won without the support of our countless straight allies,” writes Kevin Riordan, in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Murphy administration has, in recent times, been signing bills into law giving greater rights to transgender people. In February, New Jersey joined a small number of states to allow people to amend their birth certificate without proof of having undergone a sex-change operation, USA Today reported.
Gov. Murphy also signed a bill that allows a person’s changed gender identity to be reflected on death certifications. He further announced the creation of a task force that will assess the legal and societal barriers for transgender individuals, specifically in the areas of education, health care, housing and criminal justice.
Last September, New Jersey directed schools that were designed to promote transgender-friendly policies on the use of names and pronouns, participation in activities, use of facilities and student records, the USA Today report said.
The latest law requiring LGBT-related content in curricula of schools has, however, been condemned by conservative groups who argue that the measure infringes on parents’ rights and would make children question their sexuality.
“We believe it further erodes the right of parents to discuss this sensitive issue with their children, if in fact, schools are going to be promoting and making the claim that this particular person was an LGBTQ member,” he said.
For Deo, people should be included in lessons based on achievements without necessarily discussing their sexual orientation.