Boston is no stranger to a lack of minority representation in its public schools. High schools in the area notoriously fall short in diversity among teaching staff and fail to provide students with the representation they need during their formative years.
In hopes of normalizing LGBTQ issues, public high schools in Boston are implementing a curriculum designed to be more representative of the queer community this fall.
The optional curriculum, developed by Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, will include LGBTQ-based English, history and health lessons. Students will learn about the history of the gay rights movement, including the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and read literature from gay and lesbian authors.
American history is infamous for underrepresenting minority issues and being taught with a significant amount of prejudice, especially in certain areas of the country. LGBTQ history is a part of U.S. history and that cannot be omitted from history lessons or excluded from literary canons. The team designing this curriculum and the schools incorporating it are taking valiant steps in normalizing non-heterosexuality and providing LGBTQ students with the representation they need to feel comfortable in their own skin.
High school is often a pivotal time for LGBTQ youth. While it’s difficult to come out as queer, it can be even harder to live with the aftermath of that decision. Misunderstanding from peers and stereotypes of the gay community run rampant among teenagers and thrive in the high school setting. In a student’s formative years, being perceived as an outsider makes one a target for discrimination.
Providing students with comprehensive, accurate information on a range of LGBTQ topics is the only way to normalize this subject matter and create accepting environments for queer students. By mandating that curriculum includes LGBTQ content across multiple disciplines, we can teach students to perceive non-heterosexuality as being just as normal and acceptable as heterosexuality.
When students debate whether or not to come out, they consider the impact this will have on their relationships with peers, but they also consider the views of adults in their lives. Young students often look to teachers at key times in their lives for guidance. Teachers speaking about LGBTQ issues and teaching books featuring queer characters can be a source of support for queer students.
If students are able to see themselves in the content they are studying, their engagement with the material increases. For queer students, seeing people they identify with represented in history and literature — academic settings where the teacher, as an authority, can assert the subject is not taboo — makes students feel as though their identity is valid.
LGBTQ-themed health lessons are a particularly important component of this new curriculum. Sex education is an essential part of health class, but often, sex education in public schools is framed around straight students. Heteronormative sex education fails to provide a full range of health information and does a disservice to a population of students that are often under-educated about queer-specific concerns.
This curriculum, soon to be taught in Boston high schools, is a step in the right direction toward normalizing the LGBTQ community, but the curriculum remains optional. Individual schools are given a choice on whether or not they want to provide queer representation to teens who desperately need it.
Visit any high school in Massachusetts, and you’ll likely hear the word “gay” used as a derogatory term. Learning to have negative associations with the queer community starts at a young age and takes work to unlearn. Not every student can make this journey alone. Effort on behalf of schools themselves is necessary to erase an offensive culture surrounding the queer community.