A new law in Illinois will promote a more LGBTQ-inclusive history curricula in schools across the state. The measure goes into effect in July of next year.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed the legislation into law on Friday. The bill, which passed the House in March and the Senate in May, would amend the school code to ensure public schools “teach about the the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people” in U.S. and state history.
The measure provides for textbooks in public schools that include the “roles and contributions of all people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act” and mandates that they be non-discriminatory toward those groups. Queer, trans, and nonbinary people are protected under state law.
Lawmakers who supported the bill say that LGBTQ-inclusive curricula will not only provide a more accurate telling of history but will work against transphobia and queerphobia and help LGBTQ students feel more welcome at school.
Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), who is a lesbian, said to NewNowNext in March, “As someone who grew up in a small town and didn’t see myself reflected anywhere, I know it would have made a difference to see examples of who I could be.”
Illinois Sen. Heather Steans (D), a sponsor of the bill, said on her website, “One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints … It is my hope that teaching students about the valuable contributions LGBTQ individuals have made throughout history will create a safer environment with fewer incidents of harassment.”
The Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)’s 2017 school climate report found that school-based supports, such as LGBTQ-inclusive curricula, Gay-Straight Alliances, which are student organizations to promote LGBTQ-friendly environments in schools, and LGBTQ-supportive school staff continue to have a positive effect on school climate. But often these supports are not available to students. A majority of students in the survey (64.8%) said their classes did not include representations of LGBTQ people, history, or events in lessons.
Brenda Barron, Director of Public Policy at GLSEN, told ThinkProgress in a statement, “All students deserve to see their lives and experiences reflected at school. We applaud Governor Pritzker’s signing of legislation that makes sure that students, including LGBTQ students, are reflected in the curriculum throughout Illinois. We look forward to resources and funding being allocated toward supporting this important goal of making Illinois public schools more inclusive.”
The bill had opposition from some Republican lawmakers and conservative groups which claimed that legislation ensuring that LGBTQ people are included in the curricula would “politicize” history lessons, and could be age inappropriate. The Illinois Family Institute said the legislation would “politicize curricula in order to advance biased beliefs about sexuality to children.”
Illinois Rep. Darren Bailey (R) said “forcing that information on five year-olds and elementary school children is more of an effort of indoctrination than of learning history about individuals who accomplished important discoveries in science or created great works of art.”
Meanwhile, California, New Jersey, Colorado, and Vermont all have introduced or passed legislation on ensuring public schools have LGBTQ-inclusive lessons.
In 2011, California led the way and passed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act to require better representation of LGBTQ people in history education. In 2016, the California State Board of Education voted to approve a new history and social science framework that was inclusive of LGBTQ people.
In February, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), signed a law that requires public schools include lessons inclusive to LGBTQ people and other groups. It goes into effect in the 2020-2021 school year.
In May, Colorado lawmakers voted to require that K-12 curricula be inclusive to LGBTQ people. Gov. Jared Polis (D), the first openly gay governor in the United States, signed it later that month, the governor’s office confirmed.
In 2018, Vermont state Rep. Ruqaiyah Khadijah “Kiah” Morris (D) introduced a bill to require better ethnic and social education in schools, which included “social groups” as “females, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, or asexual.”
By contrast, six states — Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi — have what are known as “no promo homo” laws. These laws forbid teachers of health and sexuality to discuss queer people in a positive way, if they allow the acknowledgement of LGBTQ people at all. Sometimes these laws even require teachers tell students inaccurate or negative information about LGBTQ people.
In April, Arizona lawmakers repealed the state’s 1991 law that said schools teaching about HIV-AIDS could not promote a “homosexual lifestyle.” Some Arizona teachers said the effect of the law was broader than HIV/AIDS instruction and fostered fear of mentioning queer people at all.