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Illinois Aims To Be Second State Including LGBTQ History Curriculum In Schools

Illinois could become the second state swapping old textbooks for LGBTQ-inclusive texts.

Lawmakers there have introduced a billto expand the public school curriculum to teach LGBT history in grades K-12.

If passed, the Inclusive Curriculum Bill, would be the second of its kind in the nation. California adopted a similar measure in 2011, but only approved LGBTQ-inclusive textbooks in November.

The bill mandates teaching that “LGBT individuals have a rich history and have made substantial and valuable contributions to society, including in government, arts, sciences, mathematics, sports and education, and in the economic, cultural and political development of society.”

Mike Ziri, Director of Public Policy for Equality Illinois, says the bill was a top ask from community stakeholders.

“I think having an inclusive curriculum provides a fuller understanding of the importance of a diverse society, and I think that message is probably more important now than it has been in a long time considering national politics,” Ziri tells INTO.

Proponents of the bill envision the curriculum would include the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams and civil rights icon Bayard Rustin.

GLSEN, an LGBTQ education organization, reported in its 2015 School Climate Surveythat less than a quarter of students were learning about anything LGBTQ-related in class, textbooks or assignments. Less than half (49 percent) had access to LGBTQ-related topics via school computers. Just 42 percent said they could find LGBTQ information in their school’s library.

In Chicago, LGBTQ rights advocates have aimed to make some of that information more accessible to youth. In 2012, community leaders unveiled The Legacy Walk, “an outdoor museum.” The project commemorates historically significant LGBTQ people whose histories are detailed on plaques affixed to the iconic rainbow pylons in the Lakeview neighborhood.

But LGBTQ students have also struggled in Illinois schools, especially transgender youth.

Illinois saw a firestorm of anti-trans rhetoric in 2012 after East Aurora School introduced transgender student protections and then rescinded them under massive protest, with the effects reverberating for years. In January, a Cook County Judge denied a transgender girl’s bid to use the girls’ locker room at Palatine High School, after the school insisted she change privately.

Backers of the bill point out that few LGBTQ students (27 percent according to GLSEN) were taught anything positive about LGBTQ people in schools. The bill could change that, they say.

“We work with students across Illinois, and we consistently hear from them that they don’t see themselves or their identities in their classrooms,” said Rodrigo Anzures-Oyorzabal, policy and advocacy manager for the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, in a statement. “This bill will help LGBTQ students see their own history across fields and practices, creating better outcomes for them in school.”

Senate Sponsor Heather Steans says she’s optimistic about the measure’s fate.

“I’m hoping that we have some momentum to get it done,” Steans tells INTO. “We have similar things to communities to developmental disabilities. We can do this in a way that allows us to phase it in over time so you can reduce the cost. We’re giving a lot of flexibility to the school districts in how you would implement.”

Last August, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law allowing transgender people to update the gender markers on their birth certificates. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the measure into law.

Ziri says his organization is mobilizing advocacy around the bill now, including in-district meetings, action alerts, phone calls and a lobby day on April 11.

Photo by Jonathan Kim/Getty


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a trans news and features reporter and former associate editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times.

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