Illinois moves to teach LGBTQ history in schools


The Illinois Senate approved a bill last week calling for the inclusion of historical events and contributions by LGBTQ people in schools.

The Inclusive Curriculum Bill aims to ensure that the state’s public school curriculum is inclusive of LGBTQ history, as is already the case when it comes to other groups.

The Illinois School Code currently ensures inclusion of the contributions and experiences of other historically marginalised communities, including of people of colour, women, immigrant communities, and people with disabilities.

The bill is an initiative of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organisation for LGBTQ Illinoisans, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which promotes safety, support, and healthy development for LGBTQ students in schools.

“By including information in public school curriculum about the contributions of LGBTQ people and the historical events they were involved in, we will get closer as a state to telling the whole story of our shared history,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, earlier this year.

“An inclusive history will affirm for LGBTQ students that people just like them existed and made significant contributions to society,” said Johnson. “This inclusive history will also benefit non-LGBTQ students, who would be taught the whole story about the achievements of LGBTQ people and the historical events that impacted all of us.”

Some examples that could be taught include: The US’s first gay rights organisation, the Society for Human Rights, was formed in 1924 in Chicago. Illinoisan Jane Addams, the mother of social work, founder of the Hull House, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was in a committed 40-year relationship with her partner, Mary Rozet Smith. The organiser of the 1963 March on Washington, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, was a gay man. And Sally Ride, the first US woman in space, was a lesbian.

“We should be proud of this history. Instead, the teaching of history has been set a little too straight. Our identities have been erased by omission. Now, it is time for our public schools in Illinois to tell the whole story,” Johnson said.

The Inclusive Curriculum Bill will next go to the House of Representatives for a vote. It has its critics, who claim that it impinges on so-called “religious freedom”.

In 2017, California became the first and still only state in the US to approve LGBTQ-inclusive history and social studies textbooks for primary schools.

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