Illinois is the latest state to require public schools to teach “the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this state.” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed SB 246 on Friday, August 9. The legislation affects students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Illinois school code says that by eighth grade, students must have “received such instruction in the history of the United States and give evidence of having a comprehensive knowledge thereof.” The new law takes effect on July 1, 2020.
When LGBT issues are included in history and other social studies, parents are generally not allowed to opt out their children. As teachers introduce children to sometimes age-inappropriate and confusing sexual messages, they infringe on parents’ rights and beliefs. Such legislation also has the effect of elevating sexual thoughts, feelings, actions and identity above the real achievements of historical figures.
In addition to Illinois, four other state legislatures have passed legislation requiring the inclusion of LGBT-identified individuals in history or social sciences: California, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon. Just this week, the Maryland Department of Education said it would add lessons on LGBT and disability rights movements to history curriculum, after pressure from legislators. Seven states restrict LGBTQ content in education, while Alabama, Arizona and Utah have all lifted their restrictions in the past few years.
California was the first state to mandate teaching LGBT in all social studies instruction, when the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act) was passed in 2011. The law went into effect in January 2012; in addition to mandating teaching about LGBT Americans, it prohibited any teaching that was discriminatory or reflected adversely upon persons based on “race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation.”
As California Family Council, a Focus-affiliated group, has reported, LGBTQ and other activist groups worked with the California Department of Education (CDE) when it began updating the state’s history and social science framework in 2014. That same year, the California Teachers Association GLBT Caucus produced a report suggesting revisions to the state’s framework, called “Making the Framework Fair.” The report proposed that second graders should learn about same-sex families, and fourth graders could learn about Native Californians “who had diverse gender identities and affectional relationships.”
Another group that worked to add LGBT content to California’s history and social science framework was the “FAIR Education Implementation Coalition.” This coalition includes activist groups such as the ACLU of California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, GSA Network (formerly the Gay Straight-Alliance Network), Our Family Coalition and Equality California. The group worked closely with the CDE as the final history and social science framework was adopted in 2016 and instructional materials were approved in 2017. Now the group provides instructional resources for including LGBTQ individuals in school history lessons.
Informed Parents of Rocklin is one group of California parents that’s concerned about the new curriculum. From their website, they make it clear that they are not driven by animosity toward or fear of LGBT-identified individuals, but they simply believe some of the new teaching is age-inappropriate, sexualizes children, fosters sexual identity confusion and erodes parental rights. They are concerned parents who want to protect their children. In their words, “We affirm the rights of all individuals and call for kindness and civility for all, regardless of race, religion, sexual or gender identity, or political ideology.”
The group has researched state-approved social studies materials and gives a number of examples of controversial and inappropriate lessons for children:
- Second graders are told in one lesson about Sally Ride, “She joined NASA and became the first female and first lesbian American astronaut.”
- Another lesson for second graders says, “Lea likes to go to the beach with her dads.”
- In a fourth grade lesson on gay rights, children are taught about Harvey Milk, who “moved to San Francisco and got involved in the gay rights movement.”
- An eighth grade lesson focuses on social reformer Jane Addams, speculating on her sexuality, citing a historian who “believes that Addams understood herself to be married to a woman and that the two women were life partners.”
California Family Council has been working to spread the word about the curriculum and textbooks used in California – now spreading to other states. While the California law mandates inclusion of LGBT-identified individuals, they explain that how the content is covered is up to teachers, schools and local school districts. They encourage parents to meet with their children’s teachers and school administrators and to examine the social studies curriculum in their children’s schools.
For parents concerned about what’s happening in their children’s schools or who want help addressing these issues with children, here are some resources: