When I was student going through elementary school, middle school, and high school, there was no discussion of LGBTI people or events in my history classes. For many other LGBTI adults, their experience at school was the same.
A few states across the United States are starting to address this by passing legislation for LGBTI-inclusive education.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center, however, is going one step further.
They released a set of free, downloadable lesson plans for teachers across the country to start incorporating into their classrooms.
GSN spoke to Terra Russell Slavin, Deputy Director of Policy & Community Building at the Center, and Hala Dillsi, a queer person of color and teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, about this project and its promising power.
Our history is diverse and important
There are 10 lesson plans total, each with a different theme and subject. They are as follows:
- January – Black Cat Tavern Riots
- March – Bayard Rustin
- April – AIDS Crisis
- May – Harvey Milk
- June – Civil Rights
- July – FAIR Act
- September – Female Impersonation During WWI
- October – Coming Out in the 1950s-1970s
- October – Bilitis and The Ladder
- November – Audre Lorde
Slavin told GSN these lesson plans and their subjects came from the Center’s own calendar. She added that intersectionality was a component of choosing the subjects.
For Dillsi, it was personal.
‘That’s especially important to me as a queer person of color,’ she said. ‘I wanted to develop something that would help all students. Being LGBTQ is only one part of people’s identity.’
The project has been in the works for some time. According to Slavin, it has two main goals: helping establishing LGBTI-inclusive schools and adhering to California’s FAIR Education Act, which mandates LGBTI-inclusive education.
Dillsi joined the project through the UCLA History Project. She knew it was important and saw it as a good way to use her research and skills. Plus, she added, she’s a bit of a nerd.
People involved with the project, including Dillsi, went to ONE Archives, the largest archive of LGBTI resources in the US, and pulled primary sources to create the curriculum.
How this can help schools become safer
Both Slavin and Dillsi stressed how teaching LGBTI history can help better school environments.
‘Research shows LGBTQ students, if they have adult allies, if they see visible representation, it makes a significant difference in their lives,’ Slavin explained.
Research also shows, however, that schools in the US are not always safe places for LGBTI students.
Slavin thinks these lesson plans can address that: ‘If a classroom is studying the subject in a meaningful way, it may address bullying. It sets up a foundation of understanding that’s not okay.’
Dillsi agreed: ‘It helps everyone – it’s all about humanizing people, and you begin to see people as human beings and understand their experiences. It changes their environment.’
A tool for teachers
In 2017, Calif0rnia became the first state to approve 10 new LGBTI-inclusive textbooks.
Unfortunately, as Dillsi told GSN, not every school can afford new textbooks. This means those lacking funds continued to use old textbooks — without any LGBTI history included.
‘That’s a gap these lesson plans can fill,’ she explained. ‘This can be empowering for teachers. They can shape these lesson plans to their own students and communities. And I hope one day we can create curriculums that cross subjects.’
As for teaching this history, she said it can start as simply as any other lesson.
‘Starting out it may be as simple as defining terms – transgender, two-spirit, lesbian, pansexual. It helps get the students started out on the same page with proper vocabulary and understanding.’
Are students responding?
It’s early yet, but Dillsi has started using these lesson plans in her own classroom. One thing she’s noticed is that all her students ‘perk up’ when she begins discussing the subject.
‘I think it’s because there’s not a lot of spaces that discuss this history. There’s a curiosity there and I’ve noticed that students care about learning how LGBTI people are treated,’ she said.
‘They’ve never had the opportunity to learn about someone like Sylvia Rivera. And to see someone who is working class, who is a person of color, who faced their struggles, it’s relatable. And to see someone with strength and resilience is powerful.’
As for herself, Dillsi said the whole project has been humbling.
‘I get a little overwhelmed because I realize how poignant this is.’