California to Add LGBT Rights Movement to Public School Curriculum

July 19th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Most public school students learn about abolitionists and Civil Rights leaders in elementary school classrooms. Yet, it's entirely possible for students to graduate high school with more knowledge about biology than the gay rights movement. In California, that's about to change.

On Thursday, the California State Board of Education voted unanimously to add coursework on the LGBT rights movement to public schools, ABC News reports.

The courses will also teach students about same-sex couples and LGBT families starting in second grade.

Later in elementary and middle school, students will learn about the evolution of gender norms in 18th and 19th century America and those who challenged and pushed back against them, the report adds. High school students will be taught about marriage equality and anti-transgender bathroom bills of today.

The law also supplements history and social science courses with lessons about disabled people, voter education, financial literacy, and genocide, The Los Angeles Times reports. It bans schools from teaching anti-LGBT material, according to ABC News.

The law technically took effect in 2012 under the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which required schools to amend history curriculums to include the LGBT rights movement, The Times explains. But it wasn't implemented due to financial strains on school budgets and various attempts to overturn the requirements, ABC News explains.

It makes sense that California is leading the charge on LGBT education, since the LGBT rights movement is rooted in the state.

San Francisco was at the forefront of the gay rights movement in the 1970s. After joining the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk introduced a landmark gay rights ordinance that prohibited gay and lesbian people from being fired due to their sexual orientations.

LGBT advocacy also has strong ties to Los Angeles, where the country's first gay rights organization was founded in 1950 by activist Harry Hay, SF Gate pointed out.

Even though gay marriage is legal in every U.S. state, school can be an extremely traumatic environment for LGBT kids and teenagers.

A June report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that LGBT students were given detention, suspended, and expelled from school at unsettlingly high rates, "often for infractions related to identity or orientation," Take Part reported.

GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey reported that 74 percent of LGBT middle and high school students experienced verbal harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation.

But the survey also suggested that LGBT-inclusive classrooms can make students feel far safer at school.

In schools that taught LGBT inclusive material in class, only 35 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe, while 60 percent of LGBT students in schools that did not teach an LGBT-inclusive curriculum felt unsafe, the survey reports.

LGBT advocates are hailing the vote as a huge victory.

"You cannot understand where we are now collectively as Americans without understanding something of the LGBT past," Don Romesburg, the chairman of women's studies at Sonoma State University, told ABC News.

[h/t ABC News]