In July, California made the landmark decision to include LGBT+ history and the history of disabled people on their history syllabus. This means for the first time it will be taught to pupils across the state, a pivotal decision for US education.
The policy change comes in a move to make LGBT+ youth more accepted, and to normalize the idea of LGBT+ individuals and families. The new syllabus will include pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk and other LGBT+ rights milestones and important LGBT+ figures in American history. In the UK, however, the history of LGBT+ people frequently goes unremarked upon in schools.
Representation is so important to LGBT+ youth, who so rarely see themselves in many forms of media. In schools homophobic bullying is often rife, and LGBT+ youth face high levels of homelessness, depression, and suicide. An education on successful LGBT+ people and the history of the movement could make school communities as a whole more accepting, along with improving the circumstances of many young people who are still in the process of developing their sexual and gender identities.
LGBT+ history is crucial to education because it demonstrates to young people the diversity of those who created the culture we live in today. For example, Shakespeare, perhaps the world’s most famous playwright, has been the subject of huge amounts of speculation over whether or not he had relationships with members of the same sex, while Alan Turing was chemically castrated after a conviction for homosexual activity. Although it’s not as easy to label people from history as LGBT+ because the language to define sexuality didn’t exist back then, we cannot ignore the contributions that people who were not straight had on our culture. To erase those contributions gives youth the false impression that historically, only straight people had a cultural and developmental impact. It perpetuates the homophobic and transphobic idea that LGBT+ identities are new, something people have only recently come up with, and as such can be questioned or dismissed.
Students shouldn’t only be taught about the successes of the LGBT+ community, either. In education on the holocaust, the genocide of LGBT+ people should be included alongside the history of anti-semitism. While Jewish people were pardoned and there was recognition of their suffering, once LGBT+ people were released from concentration camp many were imprisoned once more, and formal pardoning only began in the year 2000.
Both straight and LGBT+ youth would benefit from greater inclusion of LGBT+ history on the curriculum. Section 28, which banned material promoting homosexuality from schools in the UK, was repealed in 2003, but 13 years later there still isn’t enough education on LGBT+ identities and histories. In a country where at least 1 in 5 LGBT+ youth have considered suicide, more needs to be done, and we need to start in our schools.