Next fall, kids in Watertown, Mass. could be learning about the Stonewall Riots or Langston Hughes in the classroom. At the same time, theirparents will head to the polls to vote on whether or not to roll back trans rights in their home state.
Massachusetts is rolling out LGBTQ curriculum units later this year, offering optional lessons to teachers and schools in social studies, history, and English that cover LGBTQ topics.
“These units are an important way of affirming LGBTQ individuals’ presence and contributions, and we are grateful to the Massachusetts educators who developed them,” said Jacqueline Reis, media relations coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in a statement to INTO.
The lessons touch on recent court cases impacting LGBTQ people and examine The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway as a queer character.
These standards set Massachusetts far ahead of the curve on LGBTQ education. California is the only other state to have adopted an LGBTQ curriculum, though LGBTQ advocates in Illinois are in the midst of trying to pass legislation to implement the same kind of curriculum.
The Massachusetts lessons, however, are not mandatory. Schools, districts, and teachers have the option of picking and choosing what if any part of the units they will implement. Together, make up separate units instead of an overall curriculum.
Boston schools have already begun implementing their own units, according to Corey Prachniak-Rincon, director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth.
“I think that what the dream is that all students in the state will have an education that is inclusive of their peers in the classroom, their own identities and the identities of people who are different from them,” Prachniak-Rincon said. “And if these model curriculum units help to achieve that overall, then that’s great. If local schools elect to do that in a different way, you know that’s also great.”
The Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth developed the units over three years with a team of teachers.
Prachniak-Rincon says demand for an LGBTQ curriculum in Massachusetts was great.
“Frequently we were hearing from teachers,” they said. “We were hearing from students. We were hearing from parents. And the curriculum that was developed was based on teachers who were able to do this successfully.”
The move to push LGBTQ-affirming education in Massachusetts comes at a trying time for queer Bay Staters.
The Commonwealth is facing the nation’s first-ever statewide referendum on transgender rights. This fall as many students are introduced to the new LGBTQ curriculum units, the state will vote on whether or not to roll back anti-discrimination protections in public accommodations for trans people. Experts forecast that the vote as a 50 percent chance of passing.
Perhaps that contradiction is a good argument for education Massachusetts students on LGBTQ issues now, and young people, teachers, and parents need more resources to get there, says Prachniak-Rincon.
“The kind of how people feel about their neighbors, their friends, doesn’t always catch up with the institutions that we have and also doesn’t reflect a universal opinion,” they said.
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