Should Teachers Discuss Gay History?


By: Heather Perl and Danielle Tompkins

In California public schools, students are required to learn about black history and women’s history. And if a bill approved by the State Senate this week becomes law, the state will become the first in the country to mandate that schools also teach gay history.  In addition to the basic argument of whether or not human sexuality should even be discussed in the classroom, when and if should this be discussed?  What age and subject is considered appropriate for the introduction of human sexuality?

While the bill does not set specific requirements about what should be taught to students, it does say that contributions of gays and lesbians in the state and country must be included in social science instruction. So Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the state, and Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist, may take a prominent place in the state’s history books.

Advocates say that teaching about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in schools would prevent bullying and shatter stereotypes that some students may harbor. They point to several students who have committed suicide after being taunted by peers for being gay. But the bill has drawn vociferous criticism from opponents who argue that when and how to talk about same-sex relationships should be left to parents.

A similar bill was approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2006, but vetoed by Gov.  It was Arnold Schwartzenegger who said that school curriculum should be left up to local schools. But there is a new governor now and both supporters and opponents of the bill expect it will sail through the heavily Democratic Assembly and be signed into law by Gov.  Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has been supportive of gay rights.

“It is very basic to me that people dislike and fear that with which we are less familiar,” said Mark Leno, who sponsored the bill and is one of the first openly gay men elected to the State Senate. Students who come to view their fellow classmates as regular members of society, rather than misfits, will find that “their behavior changes for the better,” Mr. Leno said.

Some school districts, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have already put in place such a curriculum. But even in those more liberal areas, Mr. Leno said that students may not realize how recently gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have been given more rights. For example, he said, many teenagers would be shocked to learn that it was just more than a decade ago when the state legally prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians is what bothers some of the opponents of the legislation. Craig De Luz, a conservative activist and school board member from Sacramento, said that in many communities “the issue of homosexuality is far from settled.”

“There is still a big cultural discussion of: Is it something that one chooses, or is it something that someone is born with,” Mr. De Luz said. “It is all part of the same agenda, which is largely about social acceptance. Now this is a way of endorsing a lifestyle that many people are morally opposed to.”

Carolyn Laub, the director of the gay-straight alliance network who lobbied for the legislation, cited the experience of an Orange County student as an example of how the law might work. When the student learned that the civil rights protests of the 1960s would be discussed in history class, he asked the teacher to talk about the stonewall riots.

“Suddenly students see he is part of a broader community, and they have a much better understanding of that community in the context of the rest of the world,” Ms. Laub said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with sex; it’s about entire communities that are left out.”

Although the topic of human sexuality should be made aware in the classroom, when and how it should be done is still something that must be taken into consideration.  It has been suggested that awareness of the topic may reduce bullying and allow for a safer and more acceptable generation of adults. 

As prospective teachers, we want our students to be open and accepting of others who are different from the mainstream, yet our proposed awareness should first gain permission from the parents as this is still a sensitive topic.  When and if this topic will be mandated across the country is still unknown, but it is definitely a serious thought and effort to be incorporated into the regular school curriculum.  When student’s lives are at risk for the future, awareness as a topic of curriculum almost seems unquestionable to a teacher.


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17 responses to “Should Teachers Discuss Gay History?

  1. This was a very interesting topic to read about. For my personal opinion, history is history whether it is gay or straight. This is where differentiated instruction comes into play. It is very important to expand a child’s mind on different situations that our history tells us one of which is the homosexual populations. They are people just like us with interesting and life long lessons to teach our children.

  2. This particular topic was quite interesting. I believe it’s very important especially for today’s generation to learn about. A topic such as this one exploits what differentiated instruction is all about. I feel this topic will benefit children of all ages and create a better awareness of undertsanding about the homosexual society, both history and present.

  3. This topic in the classroom may be very “touchy” to discuss. I do believe that history is history but because of different religious beliefs, teachers should make the parents aware of what they want to discuss with their children. A person’s sexual preference was rarely discussed in history anyway. A person’s history was mainly on their accomplishments or the lack of. Of course, today sexual preference is more out in the open but I still believe it is irrelevent to discuss in a classroom unless there was a law or act of violence in history pertaining to sex or sexual preference.

  4. Although sexuality is a sensitive topic, it should be discussed in the classroom to avoid future discrimination and misunderstanding. The more people are educated about each other the less they will taunt and fear differences. Education is about exploration. This includes sexual exploration and all questions that may arise from this for the student.

  5. This article brings the movie “Milk” to mind. The movie highlights the political career of Harvey Milk (a California resident turned political activist). This movie taught me, and my peers, a lot about the history about how homosexual Americans obtained the rights they currently have in the U.S. I think that these lessons should and will be taught eventually in the U.S., but at this point in time it is still a controversial issue. Teachers should have caution when touching upon these issues, but not completely avoid them because they are interesting, eye opening, and very REAL topics.

  6. I understand that sexuality is a sensitive and at times may seem like a hard topic for a teacher to cover but is necessary to be discussed. If it has suggested that awareness of the topic may reduce bullying and allow for a safer and more acceptable generation of adults then why is there such hesitation? Recently, there has been a numerous amount of cases dealing with homosexuality and horror stories told about the torture young men and women have gone through. Our younger generations need to understand acceptance and realized everyone needs to be treated equally no matter what their skin color, hair color, and / or sexuality may be.

  7. I feel that regardless of sexual orientation those who made impacts and changed history should be included in the social science curriculum. Students should learn about those who changed the world and if their sexual orientation had a vital role in their accomplishments then it should be included. When referring to the subject as touchy and parents consent should be received. I do not feel that is correct, if the curriculum states that certain topics are going to be covered then parents do not need to be contacted.

  8. Even though sexualuality is a very hard topic to discuss I believe we should discuss this more to have students understand eachother. “Advocates say that teaching about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in schools would prevent bullying and shatter stereotypes that some students may harbor.” I think this is a very good point if you have children learn and see that gays arent any differnet then the rest of us possibly bullying can become under control. There are many students today that come from households with two mother or two fathers they should feel accepted just like any other child. We need to realize that we are all people and doesnt matter your race age ethnicty or even your sexuality. Those who made impacts and changed history should be included in curriculum regardless if they are gay or not.

  9. If we are to be teaching students history, we should be allowing them the full picture. Leaving out information, regardless of who it involves, is robbing the students of a full and complete knowledge base. We cannot simply edit history, although it has been done to extremes in the past, because the subject matter may be controversial or complicated. Aside from this, can’t we be teaching about the contributions of great people without using labels? It seems unnecessary, at this point in time, to have to qualify or disqualify important contributions, or facts of history, because of a persons sexuality. Students come to school to receive an education, and by not educating them on a full range of history, we are failing them.

  10. I strongly believe this topic should be discussed in the classroom. Some of the major things we want to teach students are acceptance and respect for others. Let’s not be ignorant. Creating awareness can only help in creating open-minded citizens.

  11. This is a great subject. I feel that we need to teach children about ANYTIME a group in our society is discriminated upon. It is our duty to make children aware of anytime that we have denied a group social justice so they can learn from our wrongs. By not discussing it we are just furthering the problem. For those who feel that issues regarding sexual preference should not be discussed in the classroom, they are forgetting that for generations this group of human beings have been treated as second rate citizens and have been refused equality. How can we teach our children to love one another if they are not aware of the harm that ignorance can cause.

  12. I do believe this topic should be discussed in the classroom when brought up. It is a topic that should not be ignored and students should feel comfortable talking about it. However, I do not believe it is necessary to have a whole month dedicated to like black history or women’s history.

  13. Black white, gay, straight, new or old, terror or happy endings. Students deserve to know it all. I believe this topic should be discussed in the classroom. For some- the idea of being gay is uncomfortable to them- they don’t know about it, they are ignorant. It is our job as educators to teach children it is ok to be who you are.
    Wether we know if you are born gay or turn gay… whatever. It doesn’t matter.
    We should teach and embrace children to be individuals and be happy and knowledgable about it.

  14. I think that students should definitely be exposed to a multitude of topics that we often talk about in real-life. This includes the divisive topic of gay history. Most importantly, teachers should not use this as a way to politically persuade students. A lesson should be developed solely in a way as to inform students about the facts and engage the students in a debate so that they can form as well as share their own opinions.

  15. I enjoyed reading this article and I think this topic should be taught in the classrooms. I think that it can help with bullying, stereotypes, and also with students who are afraid to come out to their loved ones. This topic can also possibly help ignorant people to become more aware and respectful of others.

  16. I think this article is extremely important and the subject is very personal to me. I think it is important to educate our youth about gay history and safe homosexual sex. Discussing it in class not only educates the youth but make a safer more accepting enviorment for students to “come out.” As for the discussion on when? I think that when we discuss heterosexual intercourse in schools is when we should discuss homosexual sex.

  17. I feel that everything that helped to shape the history of our world today should be taught to students. Obviously, there is only so much time, so you don’t have the ability to teach students every single important world event. People that are gay are just important as straight people, so I feel that any grand achievement for them should be taught and shared with the world just as any achievement for straight people. People say you should not discriminate against others, and not teaching gay history while you teach women’s history, black history, etcetera, isn’t that discrimination?

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