(Image Source: Gaby FeBland)
A few weeks ago, my school’s government class listed same-sex marriage as one of the ‘controversial’ topics that students would need to discuss throughout the year along with the death penalty, abortion, and gun laws. Same-sex marriage was positioned the exact same way that issues about life and death were. But worse, same-sex marriage--and the validity of the LGBTQ+ community by extension--was being positioned as something people could have valid opinions on. In schools like mine, queerness is currently seen as a thing to agree with or disagree with.
This experience is one of the many reasons that for queer students across America, high school isn’t just high school, it’s a battleground.
We come with bayonets to our math class, dodge slurs on the way to lunch, and strategize with our queer comrades. Our mere existence is still seen as controversial through the eyes of school curriculums, especially where I live, in a red part of a blue state.
And we seem to only be backtracking in protections for queer identities, such as South Dakota and Missouri’s legally mandated exclusion of queerness in anti-discrimination policies.
Obviously, queer students don’t feel safe when they’re put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their identities. Considering queer students are reporting being bullied by their classmates more than cisgender and heterosexual students, should they really be put on the hot seat in the classroom? This unthoughtful teaching creates a cycle of harm for these students, promoting passiveness and classifying “opinions” as other people’s identities. We can’t raise students to be kind and engaged if we teach them that bigotry is okay if it suits the current political climate.
Instead, LGBTQ+ figures, stories, and history should be visible and positioned without controversy--but also celebrated in the classroom.
What would happen if students started asking their teachers about an influential LGBTQ+ person in their subject field? I wonder how much my history teachers could tell me about Masha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera --or the Lavender Scare. I wonder if my language arts teachers could hold a conversation about the queer themes of Gatsby or the writing of Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf.
We deserve more. Queer students deserve more.
Queer invisibility in the school system can’t be solved with just a curriculum adaptation. It requires a holistic plan with updated pedagogy, support for student affinity groups, training for teachers and students, and much more. In fact, everyone involved in the education system should be literate on the student LGBTQ+ experience and community.
While folks in progressive cities might feel like this problem is inconsequential, inclusion would make a world of difference in rural and conservative communities. If you’ve loved when your teacher talked about Pride month, or wished your teacher would talk about Pride month, I implore you to make that vocal to your state government. We need more to follow in the footsteps of California, New Jersey, and Connecticut (among others) who have created curricular standards that “include affirming visibility of LGBTQ+ students.”
Students can start this conversation through accountability. Holding their teachers accountable, commenting at student board meetings, and continually asking “why?” to the exclusion of queer voices in their curriculum.
Queerness isn’t a sweater to put on and off; it’s a part of students and can’t be left out of the school house--it’s integral to teaching the whole student. It’s tremendously unfair that in the same country, in one state a young queer student gets to be affirmed, while in another state, the identity is practically outlawed in the classroom.