LGBTQ History Comes out of the Shadows, into K-12 Classrooms

Certain topics were off limits when Forest Stuart attended high school. Civil rights were covered, but rarely did classes take a deep dive into the contributions of minority communities. Stuart first learned about the LGBTQ community from Tumblr. One teacher, however, a field hockey coach at Monta Vista High School, encouraged Stuart to learn about the group’s history and other topics deemed too risque.

“She was always really great at bringing in the history of minority groups that are usually lost or not discussed in class,” Stuart says. “The other teachers covered little to nothing.”

Stuart identifies as trans, non-binary and queer. Family was supportive from the start, beginning when they—Stuart uses “they/them” pronouns to identify as both masculine and feminine—started to question gender and sexuality in middle school and high school, all the way through coming out last year.

“[My family has] been really receptive in me teaching them and bringing them up to speed on all the terms,” Stuart says.

Not everyone has been so supportive, though. Stuart faced harassment from some classmates on social media after becoming heavily involved in the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA).

“The general school population who was vocal was really accepting and excited for me, and that was nice,” Stuart says. “Being pretty out there and outspoken meant that whenever people could voice their opinions anonymously they did take that chance.”

Not long after this time, Stuart found the LGBTQ Youth Space, a resource center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth and young adults ages 13 to 25. A staff member from the Youth Space was the first non-binary adult Stuart had met.

“The power and importance of queer and LGBTQ people coming together and providing for our own is huge, creating a space that is so vibrant and energetic where people can thrive and learn about themselves,” Stuart says.

Other than learning about Bayard Rustin in U.S. history junior year, Stuart has no recollection of classroom lessons about other LGBTQ leaders. Rustin, a civil rights leader and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., practiced non-violent protests and worked to advance rights for the African American and LGBTQ communities.

“Being a queer person in a school, anything that is said [about LGBT figures] really stands out,” Stuart says. “It’s so different having these subjects in a classroom setting.”

Stuart will soon attend West Valley College to study in the Women and Gender Studies program. College has often been the first place students begin to learn about sexuality and LGBTQ issues, but that’s about to change.

In 2010, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 48, also known as the FAIR Education Act (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act). The bill requires California public school textbooks and curriculum to include lessons on the political, economic and social contributions of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

The Senate passed SB48 in April 2011. Two months later it passed through the Assembly and less than two weeks later after that, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. At the time, he estimated the curriculum would probably not be in textbooks until 2015. It turns out he was one year too optimistic.

While educators and LGBTQ advocates worked on creating structured, age-appropriate lesson plans, a conservative group called Stop SB48 tried to place two measures on the 2014 ballot, arguing the new curriculum is a “promotion of homosexuality.” One effort hoped to eliminate the bill completely and the other wanted to give parents the option to opt out of having their children taught LGBTQ history. The efforts fell short of the 500,000 signatures required.

Only now are California public school districts finalizing curriculum to meet the law’s standards. More robust accounts of LGBTQ figures like Harvey Milk—the first openly gay elected official in California—are expected to be woven into history and social science classes. Milk served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for 11 months and passed a gay rights ordinance for the city before being assassinated in 1978.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, the first openly gay man to be elected in county history, says that learning about someone like Milk in school would have made a huge impact on him.

“All of this is so personal,” Yeager says. “Some kid will be reading a textbook in the solitude of their bedroom and it will bring such comfort to them. It is going to make them feel that they have self-worth and that there are any number of possibilities open to them.”

Peter Allen, a spokesman for San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), the largest district in the county overseeing 42 schools, points out that for many children, adding these figures into history lessons gives straight and LGBTQ students people they can relate to.

“Every story has to have a protagonist, or a hero; you’re trying to tell a narrative,” Allen says. “In order for history to resonate you have to have individuals, moments, events that give context.”

Maribel Martinez, a manager for the county’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, the first department of its kind in the country, views the changing framework as coursework that fits in with existing history and social sciences. Educators, she adds, will now have more tools to teach young people about inclusion. Martinez helped the LGBT Inclusion Coalition, which sent a letter July 1 to State Board of Education President Michael Kirst asking for the adoption of the Fair Education Act. On July 14, the board adopted new guidelines for what school districts can incorporate into existing Common Core curriculum.

Martinez calls the Fair Education Act’s implementation, which will also have an emphasis on the contributions of minorities and the disabled, “a turning point.”

Elementary school students will now be introduced to marriage equality and the acceptance of families with two moms or two dads. In middle school, students will learn about the Boy Scouts lifting their ban on gay scout leaders and the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard. High school will require studies on transgender identity and the process of coming out; the Stonewall Riots of 1969; what it was like to be gay in different generations; and how to overcome or break out of gender stereotypes. By graduation, students will have studied the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage and more cases about gender neutral bathrooms.

Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank Center, which conducts outreach and programs for the South Bay’s LGBTQ community, calls the implementation an exciting yet long overdue development.

“People need to know that parenting is parenting,” Antolovich says. “Children need love and attention that’s age appropriate, and they need to bond with adults who care for and love them.”

Of course, a concern raised about the new law is the topic of sexuality and when to introduce it to children. Students will receive “age-appropriate” lesson plans that exclude “intimate details of historical figures’ lives,” according to the Fair Education Act’s website. It adds, “Lessons about morality or sex are not part of the guidelines and are left entirely for parents to discuss with their kids at home.”

SJUSD has taken the content and made it available to social studies teachers to use as early as this coming school year. Teachers are being monitored to ensure they incorporate the new information into their lesson plans.

Antolovich underlines that the passing of this bill will not only benefit any student who identifies as LGBTQ, but also their family and friends. She says, “Our friends can say ‘Hey, look, somebody like you.’ It will help parents and teachers who also recognize we are a valid part of the community.”


  1. Isn’t that great, what are you going to do for the 98.5% strait kids that are going to now feel really bad and left out?

    • It’s the same reason that we need to have Black Lives Matter: Because we’ve had 300 years of Black Lives Don’t Matter. When you’re not oppressed (like the vast majority of white heterosexual males), you don’t need advocates to take your side. And then, true to form, whenever minorities achieve some kind of progress, such as that illustrated in this story, bigots like you come out of the woodwork to wail against the “discrimination,” the “infringement on my rights,” the “tyranny.” Guess what? It isn’t “political correctness,” like Trump and his minions would have people believe. It’s social justice.

      • “When you’re not oppressed (like the vast majority of white heterosexual males)”

        Speak for yourself buddy. When you have 45 years of “i’m oppressed and you are the enemy” shoved down your throat, the giv-a-dam gets a little bit busted. I dont ever recall getting handouts, affirmative action perks, preference in hiring, preference in scholarships-college entrance-etc….i had to join the MILITARY to get those perks. So speak for yourself, and not for those who have pride in what they have achieved….DESPITE you, not because of you.

      • Calling me a bigot is not going to win you any points. I was picked on as a kid all the way to 10’th grade.
        I object to anyone being treated with disrespect, but I also see minority rule with special people as a very bad thing.
        Heavy handed rules by governments to play favorites with one group or another, large or small will eventually lead to a dangerous backlash, and turmoil, on a journey to civil unrest.
        But wasn’t that the goal?

    • The very fact that straight kids happen to be the majority already means that they’re not going to feel left out. If you’re really so sensitive to the point where we can’t include a few LGBTQ figures in our curriculum even though most of the people in history we read about are straight, then you have some serious reconsidering to do.
      (And just to be nitpicky here, I’m pretty sure kids aren’t bodies of water.)

  2. I’m glad to see that our public education system, which has excelled at producing graduates prepared for neither college nor employment, has found a new way to fail its students and the taxpayer’s dollars.

    On the other hand, good for Forest… he’ll get plenty of the one thing he really craves: attention.

    • Why exactly is this a failure? LGBTQ and disability minority struggles are still part of our history, whether you want to acknowledge that or not. If you’re going to argue that we should leave it out of history textbooks, then you might as well also argue to leave out everything about slavery and black rights, since African Americans are also a minority in this country.
      And you should be referring to Forest as “they”, not “he”. (Before you give me any BS about grammar, take a second to think about whether or not you really notice every single time that someone uses “they” as a singular pronoun when the gender of the person being referred to is unknown.)

      • Everything that has ever happened to every person or group is history, the vast majority of it vastly more important to those who experienced it (or relate to it ) than it is to the general public. Our schools have limited time and resources, just as our students have limited capacities to benefit from their lessons, and including a course on the sexually dysfunctional will necessitate the subtraction in the teaching of more important matters.

  3. LGBT kids need to know their feelings are OK. They’re perfectly normal, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t need to tell them that because the rest of the world would tell them it’s OK. Unfortunately there’s a lot of people in this world that feel like they have to dictate every facet of other peoples lives, and that’s not OK.

  4. This is awesome. And what Robert Cortese says because there are very real challenges faced by our sisters and brothers with ‘marginalized identities’ and the hostile environments say in which transgender and gender non-conforming people often find themselves in.

    As you can read from the first two comments above Robert s that its going to be very tough… that the good work of LGBTQ Youth Space, is still unfortunately very uncertain work… work in creating a world that truly loves all kids including queer kids, and one that builds a community that wants them all to live and thrive in peace and love with each other.

    • I was just trying to boil my thoughts down into a beautifully simple few words. Looks like I hit my mark :) Growing up, most of my friends went to Willow Glen Beauty college. We wore Doc Martin Creepers, dressed in black or frilly stuff and tried our best to model our fashion after Robert Smith of the Cure. It was the 80’s. We pierced our ears, we went dancing at One Step Beyond, and despite our classmates throwing every nasty derogatory they could at us, we had our own “Clique” Our stomping grounds was Bascom Av from Union to Hamilton.

      Not all kids are going to have the support of their schools on this, which is why it’s very important to get the message out to the other students that there’s nothing wrong with being different. Differences are the beauty marks of civilizations, the very things that stand out and set us apart. It makes me really happy to see this happening.

      Now if we can shut down the football programs and re-invest back into our STEM programs, I could die a happy man.

  5. > LGBTQ History Comes out of the Shadows, into K-12 Classrooms

    The issue of [redacted] has long been a subject of energetic public debate.

    I have made my perperspective evident in comments in such forums as [redacted].

    Anyone who opposes [redacted] or supports [redacted] should be held accountable and forced to [redacted].

    We live in an age when people are fearful of taking a stance on important issues. I say: “No more!”

    It’s time to take a stand!

  6. “All of this is so personal,” Yeager says. “Some kid will be reading a textbook in the solitude of their bedroom…”
    Can anyone else spot the error, here?
    I never read a textbook outside of class.
    Which brings up the issue that the attitude of the teacher, his or her comfort with LGBTQ issues, is going to be key to the rollout.

  7. But there are two issues that I see.
    The first is that the history of LGBTQ people is not like Women’s History, or the History of Italy, because there is no continuity. Until quite recently, would L’s, G;s, B’s, T’s, and Q’s even have realized that they were part of a defined community, and that all those others were in it? No, LGBTQ history is discontinuous, and recognizable only in retrospect.
    The other issue is that other proud group members will demand their day in the sun. I am in fact looking forward to Walloon Day, with its emphasis on carefully-produced food, large portions, deep fried potatoes, and semiautomatic firearms.

  8. Thank you for highlighting this important issue. Through our LGBTQ Youth Space, Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley works closely with schools throughout Santa Clara County to create safer spaces for all young people. We are honored to read Stuart’s comments about how the Youth Space has been a resource in their journey.

  9. “We are honored to read Stuart’s comments about how the Youth Space has been a resource in their journey.”

    I’m fascinating, therefore we are… as Descartes rolls in his grave.

  10. LOL. Thanks I can take the ribbing, my computer or SJI prints small and light as I’m writing, and spell check doesn’t always catch it. I usually see my typo’s after I post it.

  11. A friend of mine met Bayard Rustin as a boy. His parents, an interracial couple, had met in the 1940s, and worked for civil rights for African-Americans, and thus knew Bayard Rustin. (My friend’s strongest recollection was that even though Bayard was proud of his singing voice, it was pitiful.)
    As well as being a pacifist and a civil rights activist, Bayard was openly gay in an era when most gays were deeply closeted. But he had been stigmatized for being convicted of a lewd act in Pasadena, California, back in 1953, for fooling around with two other guys in the back of a car. So even though he later organized the March on Washington, he tried to stay out of the spotlight.

  12. Really don’t know why the schools are becoming involved. Don’t really give a crap what your sexual preferences are and if you chose to dress as a boy or girl or both or other. Probably the large majority could care less. It seems the media is fixated on dividing from within. Supposedly leaving it to the scholars,state, or media to educate us what minoritiy groups have been discriminated against is pure ignorance. Here’s the deely do, not everybody is going to like you. Get over it! Sorry! Every citizen of the United States is from somewhere else ( even American Indians!). The media and certain politicians choose to somehow showcase sexual preference as the new minority As noted above, nobody gives a crap! We’re all minorities who have faced equal discrimination and that is what made us united. Time to move on!

    • Schools are getting involved because it’s where kids are supposed to learn. We learn about other minority groups—ex: discrimination against the Irish during the 2nd major wave of immigration to the States, the black rights movement—so why not add in information about other minorities such as LGBTQ and disabled people? Frankly, if you asked any student, there’s always something that they’re not gonna care about, be it history, or math, or science, or something more specific. OK, sure, the majority of students won’t be LGBTQ, but if it helps even just the few that are to learn that there were important people like them in the past, then what’s the harm? Plus, if we educate non-LGBTQ kids about LGBTQ history, it’s not going to detract from their learning—it’s still enriching their knowledge of history while it teaches them to be more accepting of their peers who aren’t straight or cisgender. Sure, not everyone is going to like a kid who happens to be LGBTQ, but that dislike shouldn’t stem from the person’s gender or orientation, it should be because of their personality.

      • Well, since I’m 25% discriminated against Irish you need to treat me with special respect. No more Irish jokes or off to sensitivity training you go. I demand restitution for my ancestors indentured service in this country. I refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance any more, and I sit on my fat ass that you racist people keep making fun of as they play the National Anthem. I will not serve again in the US military even if some evil force is cutting your LGBTQ heads off and placing them on your bloody fat asses.

        Now that I’m a minority you can’t say anything bad about me because I’ll call you a racist have you charged with a hate crime!
        By the way I want your next promotion to go to me, other wise I get to sue your employer to death.

  13. The whole issue of homosexuality is something of a myth perpetrated by political activists and carried forward by liberal media. As an example – the word “gay” is derived from an Old English term used to put down and belittle homosexuals – “he’s such a gay fob.” But activists choose the word as one of defiance to advance a cause in the political mainstream.

    Imagine if mentally impaired persons where to become politically motivated and took up the chant “We’re bozos and we’re proud.’ And then went on to promote Bozo Rights laws – -and then have written into our legal codes.

    The notion that young people who have not formed cognitive thinking can be introduced to homosexuality as “normal” flies in the face of logic of nature – sexuality is meant to promote the species – the XX and XY are the basis of nature and assured continuation of the species over a period of time – this is called evolution.

    People are free to engage sexually with whom ever they please as consenting adults. I am fine with that – but to socially engineer homosexuality via education only hinders the free form thinking of self in young people. There is nothing biologically inherent in our species that defines homosexuality – – Here is a new study out that while ignored by our liberal media bears that out – –

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