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Will Illinois Be the Next State to Require Public Schools Teach LGBT History?

This week the Illinois Senate voted to require public schools to teach LGBT history.

The bill aims to ensure that history classes in public schools include lessons on "the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this state." Regional superintendents would be required to ensure the rule is enforced.

If the bill is made into law, Illinois would become just the second state to require public schools to teach LGBT history. In 2012, California became the first with passage of the Fair Education Act. Last week, Massachusetts announced a new LGBT curriculum that will be released in the summer. The Massachusetts curriculum, however, is not required. 

If California is any indicator, a law requiring LGBT-inclusive teaching doesn't necessarily ensure the lessons will be delivered to classrooms right away. California's mandate has been on the books for six years now, yet it took until late last year before the state approved K-8 textbooks that include discussion of LGBT individuals.

Funding could also be an obstacle. The Illinois bill, like California's, may also fall into a funding trap as it doesn't set aside money to pay for new textbooks, curriculum materials, and teacher training.

Another hindrance, as Stephen Sawchuk has reported, is the dearth of scholarship on how to integrate LGBT topics into K-12 education. For the most part, it's up to teachers to decide when and how to incorporate those topics into their lessons and to deal with fallout from parents and administrators.

Some groups have pushed back against the bill. The School Management Alliance, a local organization that supports the interests of principals and school board members, opposes the bill on the grounds that it takes control over curriculum decisions away from school districts.

Laurie Higgins, a spokeswoman for the Christian-based Illinois Family Institute, argued that high school juniors and seniors could get lessons on LGBT issues, according to the Associated Press, but only as long as those lessons also included the reasons some groups object to what she called the "homosexual movement."

"The left's motive is what it always is: It is to normalize homosexuality," Laurie Higgins told AP. 

Some, like state Senator Chuck Weaver, a Republican, have opposed the bill on religious grounds. "There's also concerns about religious freedom in regard to folks who may have a difference of opinion with regard to how this is handled on a curriculum basis," he said in a debate over the bill on the senate floor.

But state Senator Jason Barickman, a Republican, argued that the bill "ensures simply that the history that is taught [about the LGBT community] is factual and accurate." 

One of the bill's sponsors, state Senator Heather Steans, a Democrat, said the goal is to help students to feel less isolated. 

"What we find is that there's an enormous drop, 36 percent drop, in people feeling bullied and getting derogatory remarks made about them when they're included in the curriculum," she said.

In a 2016 survey, LGBT students were more likely to report bias-based bullying, online harassment, and feeling unsafe at school than their peers.

If passed, the law would take effect in Illinois on July 1, 2019.


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