Chicago Public Schools Make History by Incorporating LGBTQ Lessons

Lincoln Park Highschool. (Photo/Sofia Najera)

By Maddie Campbell and Sofia Najera

In a landmark decision that will help promote the advancement of civil rights and education, on Illinois Governor J.B.Pritzker signed on Aug. 9 the Inclusive Curriculum Law, which requires LGBTQ history to be taught in Illinois public schools

With the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, few states have been proactive in improving education by including inclusive lessons about the diverse sexualities that historically have not been mentioned or represented in public education. 

This curriculum will be ready for students in the Fall semester 2020 and will be added to over 4,000 schools in Illinois. Illinois will be the fifth state to pass a law requiring LGBTQ lessons to be taught in schools. Other states that have passed a similar law is New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon and California, which passed the inclusive law in 2011.

“I think this is a positive move. As a first year teacher, I am working to establish myself as an advocate and supporter of every type of student in the school and community. I strongly feel that being surrounded by acceptance and knowledge is going to make for a much brighter future,” said Julia Gibson, a first year teacher at Pulaski International School of Chicago.

Julia Gibson, teacher at Pulaski International School of Chicago. (Photo/Julia Gibson)

The legislation requires that the boards of education for middle and high schools ensure that instructional materials, such as textbooks and lesson plans, include accurate portrayals of the contributions made by LGBTQ community members.

Textbooks will also promote lessons in LGBTQ historical revolutions, this past year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the birth of the modern LGBTQ equality movement. A monumental moment in social movements and Queer history similar to Stonewall will be great lessons for teachers to dive into.

Beyond including the contributions of LGBTQ people to arts, sciences, history, and social movements; House Bill 346 solely states that the teaching of U.S. and Illinois history in public schools “shall include a study of the roles and contributions of LGBTQ people.”

Teachers and local school administrators are expected to take initiative under this new mandate to navigate when and how to bring up the gender identity and sexual orientation figures such as artist Frida Kahlo, astronaut Sally Ride and artist Andy Warhol.

Helping compile resources for schools to draw from is Mark Klaisner, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools partnering with Teaching Tolerance, one of the organizations creating the curriculum for Illinois schools, that has podcasts available for teachers.

Podcasts made available by Teaching Tolerance.

Educators who are willing to create an open dialogue with its students will mirror the grass-root activism that proudly created the LGBTQ movement.

“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints, ” said in a Chicago Tribune article, Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans (D), who first sponsored the legislation.

These open conversations and historical lessons will allow students to identify themselves in lessons in ways they did not before.

The lessons will also go beyond those in the LGBTQ community and benefit non-LGBTQ students, who would be taught the whole story about the achievements of LGBTQ people and the historical events that impacted all of us.

State Sen. Heather Steans said it best in her website page which talked about this new law, 

“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. LGBTQ children and teenagers will also be able to gain new role models who share life experiences with them.” 

This policy reform is expected to have a lasting effect in advancing a fuller education for students. It is the hope that education brings us, that LGBTQ identities will be represented and accepted among students which will promote safety and bond communities. 

Lori Lightfoot, the first African American lesbian mayor of Chicago expressed, “This law will give more young people the opportunity to see themselves in those who came before us and recognize they are not alone,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune. 

LGBTQ History Video, Created by Sofia Najera and Maddie Campbell:

The lessons will also benefit non-LGBTQ students, who would be taught the whole story about the achievements of LGBTQ people and the historical events that impacted all of us. 

Validating and representing a community that has been historically neglected in the education system is a small step forward for the LGBTQ activist and allys that seek human equality.  It is necessary for schools to update the curriculum to fit the needs of a diverse student population. 

Julia Gibson and Hannah Nolan-Spohn teachers at Pulaski International School of Chicago who have been interviewed and have acknowledged the impact this new law will have on their students. Both teachers had not heard of the law before the interview but seemed enthusiastic to induct this new curriculum into their current lesson plans. Julia Gibson stated that she would include readings on historical LGBTQ heroes, “we could read and discuss and make connections to our own lives” stated in an interview.

Hannah Nolan-Spohn, teacher at Pulaski International School of Chicago. (Photo/Hannah Nolan-Spohn)

When discussing with the teachers about why they thought adding this new curriculum would be important for children Gibson said:

“Normalizing these discussions would definitely create a welcoming classroom community and environment that feels open and accepting. Students will be exposed to a less conventional, yet completely valid way of life.”

When Nolan-Spohn was asked what this would mean for the students she mentioned, “I think representation really matters! Many teachers work to make their curriculum and classroom libraries representative of many different races, ethnicities, and religions.”   

As this new law continues to be discussed with the public, interviewing parents and students who will be affected by this new law, Rory Willson, a parent to Lincoln Park High senior Gretta Willson, said she looked forward to this new law being enforced, Gretta even stated in an interview perfectly: “I wish this was apart of the curriculum when I was younger, many of my peers would have felt a strong connection to the lessons. Perhaps students wouldn’t have been bullied in 6th grade for being different.”

This is a great point, many students may not have family members or loved ones that are openly apart of the LGBTQ community, as with many other topics their first exposure or lesson can be taught at school.

Rory Willson reminisced about when she attended Wells High School and artist Keith Haring visited the school to paint a mural on the walls of the halls. Haring was an openly gay man and a huge advocate to the LGBTQ community, which allowed students at Wells High School to identify themselves in their curriculum.

(Photo/Andrew Haring)

The law’s purpose is to allow students to feel represented in what is being taught. It also allows other students to be conscious of those around them, noting that not everyone’s the same. Parents can also feel represented in this new curriculum, each household may not have a mother and father so normalizing these ideologies with further push for human equality.

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