Seven: In California, the Right Age to Begin Learning about LGBT History

Same-sex marriage supporters outside the California Supreme Court in 2013. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
New guidelines aim to help seven-year-olds ‘locate themselves and their families in history.’

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California State Board of Education voted unanimously to include study of the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans in history and social-science classes. This LGBT-focused content will be taught in elementary, middle, and high-school grades.

Teachers will give students, beginning in second grade, information about diverse family structures, including families with LGBT parents, to help students “locate themselves and their own families in history and learn about the lives and historical struggles of their peers,” according to the text of the framework.

In grade four, as students study the history of California, they will consider the history of LGBT individuals in their state and learn about the emergence of the nation’s first gay-rights organizations in the Fifties. The framework provides the following example of LGBT history:

In the 1970s, California gay rights groups fought for the right of gay men and women to teach, and, in the 2000s, for their right to get married, culminating in the 2013 and 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decisions Hollingsworth v. Perry and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Fourth-grade students will also learn about Harvey Milk — “a New Yorker who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 as California’s first openly gay public official” — in the context of immigrants who come to California from across the country and the world.

Eighth-graders will learn about the role of gender in history, including the role it played in “constructing the enslaved as in need of civilization and thereby rationalizing slavery.” Additionally, eighth-grade students will study the way in which movement toward the Western frontier allowed for significant alterations in gender norms. Southwestern women, the framework says, “felt trapped or limited by their gender in a place and time so dominated by men.” Students will also learn that boarding schools removed Native American children from their families and imposed “Christianity, U.S. gender binaries, and social roles.”

Students will learn that boarding schools imposed ‘Christianity, U.S. gender binaries, and social roles.’

In high school, students will learn “how different social movements for people of color, women, and LGBT communities have mutually informed each other.” Eleventh-graders, in particular, are slated to conduct a more drawn-out study of LGBT individuals and their place in societal evolution. Among the issues to be covered in this context are “LGBT-oriented subcultures,” homosexuals serving in the military, “the pioneering role of gay politicians,” and the first sex-reassignment surgery. One section of the eleventh-grade course will focus on the emergence of the LGBT movement in the United States. According to the curriculum, students will consider a timeline of events such as:

‐In the 1960s, LGBT activists, often transgender, began to confront police during raids of gay bars and cafes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and, most famously, in 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

‐From 1969 onward, organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance began to define and encourage “coming out” as a personal and political act.

‐By the 1970s, 17 states had repealed laws criminalizing sodomy, and 36 cities had passed laws banning anti-gay discrimination.

#related#The course will also consider several Supreme Court decisions affecting LGBT people, including a decision that upheld the exclusion and deportation of gay and lesbian immigrants (Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service), the 1986 decision that upheld state sodomy laws (Bowers v. Hardwick), the 2003 decision overturning sodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas), and the 2013 and 2015 decisions on same-sex marriage (United States. v. Windsor, Hollingsworth v. Perry, and Obergefell v. Hodges).

Twelfth-graders will focus on the LGBT community again in the context of Supreme Court cases that affected LGBT individuals.

Though these additions to California curricula were undisputed in the vote by the state board of education, the changes will probably become more controversial as they play out in the classroom.

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