Our school curriculum should include all

Time to end erasure of LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups

ON A FRIDAY at the end of my social studies class — before the coronavirus shutdown of schools — I received a note from a student.

The note began, “Dear Mr. Guerriero, So I have a question that might sound weird coming from a sixth grader — but how do you deal with homophobia?”

I thought of his question my whole ride home and for the rest of the weekend. How do I deal with homophobia? And I knew the answer — I teach. And I know that while I’m able to create an open and welcoming environment in my classroom, we should be supporting all students in all classrooms in Massachusetts with policies and curricula that represent and celebrate all kinds of voices, particularly those that traditionally have been marginalized or erased.

LGBTQ artists, authors, historical figures, fictional characters, and cultural icons should not be a separate, segregated element of school curricula. Instead, queer people should be represented as substantive contributors to our society. For too long, these historical figures have been relegated to footnotes, euphemisms, or abject silence.

The time for silence has long passed. Now is the time to speak out, to teach, to reframe how we look at history, to bring LGBTQ individuals into the light. There have been some exciting moves in this direction, beginning with the passing of the FAIR Education Act in California in 2011. Standing for “Fair • Accurate • Inclusive • Respectful,” this law mandates that traditionally marginalized groups be represented in both the curriculum and textbooks of all public schools, and banned discrimination in educational materials and practice. In particular, the contributions of LGBTQ people were mentioned by the proponents of the law as having been absent from how history has been presented for too long.

While a few other states, like New Jersey, have passed similar laws or are considering them, Massachusetts has not. As the first state to have adopted marriage equality, in 2003, the state Legislature should keep us at the forefront of the fight for equality in education as well. This means passing a Massachusetts version of the FAIR Education Act, funding the development and availability of educational materials that reflect our diverse society, and specifically speaking out about the contributions of LGBTQ individuals in US and world history.

Along with movement in the legislatures of several states, a parallel push has been afoot to create and distribute accurate, updated, and meaningful curriculum support. For many teachers the lack of effective teaching materials, like textbooks and teacher professional development, has meant that creating inclusive curricular materials could be done only haphazardly, and often not at all. Teacher training is an important element, as almost all of my colleagues who now teach in K-12 schools were students back at a time when the contributions of LGBTQ people were erased.

Now, wonderful organizations like Lowell-based History UnErased are working to fill in the gap left by a curriculum that disregarded LGBTQ figures from history. We educators should be pushing in our classrooms and in our districts for culturally relevant and reflective curricula — not just for the sake of our LGBTQ students, but for the majority of their cisgendered, straight peers.

If we want to live in a society that values all people and is educated out from ignorance and discrimination, then it is incumbent upon us to give teachers and students the support of the state, and the funding that will help them do their work. Passing a FAIR education law here in Massachusetts will only be the beginning — as the real work of implementing and educating comes after itss passage. But if Massachusetts legislators want to keep our state on the front lines of equity and justice, this law would be a good start.

Meet the Author

Stephen Anthony Guerriero is a social studies teacher at High Rock Middle School in Needham and a Teach Plus Commonwealth Teaching Policy Fellow.