UnErasing LGBTQ History in Schools

"A nation begins in the classroom."
History UnErased (HUE)

Pop Quiz:

Okay, are you ready to take a history pop quiz? Well, ready or not, here goes:

1. The name of the creator and year in which the term "homosexual" was coined:

a. Queen Victoria, 1886; b. Walt Whitman, 1860;
c. Karl Maria Kertbeny, 1869; d. Jonathan P. Homo, 1852

2. What was "Paragraph 175"?

a. Section of the U.S. Constitution eliminating the penalty for same-sex sexuality;
b. Section of the German Penal Code criminalizing same-sex sexuality between males;
c. Section of the Bible in Genesis condemning same-sex sexuality;
d. Colonial Massachusetts law criminalizing sodomy.

3. In what year did Great Britain eliminate the death penalty for same-sex sexuality between males?

a. 1385; b. 1596; c. 1861; d. 1967.

4. Who was Sarah Emma Edmonds, and for what was Sarah famous?

a. One of about 400 people assigned "female" at birth who joined the Union and Confederate armies as "men" during the U.S. Civil War;
b. First person in the British Colonies in North America to be convicted of lesbian sexuality;
c. Author of the first "Lesbian Pulp" novel who created an entirely new literary genre;
d. The actual name of the historical figure "Joan of Arc" whom the Catholic Church burned at the stake for wearing traditionally male clothing.

5. What was the name and year of the first known LGBTQ college or university group in the U.S.?

a. Homosexual Students, University of Wyoming, 1940;
b. Gay Students' Association, University of Notre Dame, 1969;
c. Queers at San Francisco State University, 1971;
d. Student Homophile League, Columbia, University, 1967.

Alright, how do you think you did? You can find the answers to this Pop Quiz at the end of this article!

LGBTQ History:

No matter what your score, I wanted to make the point that for the most part, students are not given the opportunity to discuss important issues, concepts, and personalities related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues in the required curriculum in the K-12 classrooms of the United States.

Therefore, LGBTQ people, as is still often the case for many other minoritized communities, grow up in a society without an historical context in which to project their lives. They are weaned on the notion that they have no culture and no history. And the result has been vast and devastating. In the famous words of African American social activist Marcus Garvey: "A people without an understanding of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

October each year we celebrate LGBTQ History Month. It originated when, in 1994, Rodney Wilson, a high school teacher in Missouri, had the idea that a month was needed dedicated to commemorate and teach this history since it has been perennially excluded in the schools. He worked with other teachers and community leaders, and they chose October since public schools are in session, and National Coming Out Day already fell on October 11 each year.

Though this may have been a good beginning, I see this as only a meager supplementary or additive measure of history that belongs to everyone regardless of sexual and gender identities and expressions. It comprises a historical cannon that must transform and infuse the curriculum, which needs to be taught and studied all year, every year, age-appropriately across the academic and non-academic disciplines pre-kindergarten through university graduate studies, from history to literature, from mathematics to natural sciences, from agriculture to consumer sciences, from the arts and humanities to engineering.

History UnErased:

I was given the privilege and honor of presenting an overview of the vast enormity of LGBTQ history at a three-day training workshop for educators, schools administrators, social workers, and guidance counselors. The program was organized by two veteran classroom teachers and progressive social change agents sponsored by their truly groundbreaking organization, History UnErased (HUE) -- a project whose mission includes correcting "[t]he omission of LGBTQ history in our elementary, middle, and high school classrooms [which] has been a silent and stifling vein in our nation...by linking the process of education with the process of social justice and equity."

During the three-day training program, HUE trainers introduced participants to historical content areas and suggested pedagogical strategies of critical inquiry for engaging students and educators alike around the material from multiple perspectives and points of view.

What I experienced over these magical three days, as a presenter and then more importantly as a participant, was truly more than what one can merely read on founders Debra Fowler and Miriam Morgenstern's vast resumes. I felt a core commitment to education, a passionate and unshakable dedication from these phenomenal women in resurrecting the lives, the stories, the histories that have long been intentionally hidden from students, from us all, by socially dominant individuals and groups through the draconian measures of neglect, deletion, erasure, omission, banning, censorship, distortion, alteration, trivialization, and other unauthorized means.

The impetus in creating the History UnErased project grew out of Debra and Miriam's conversations and awareness that professionally, they had both reached a point where they wanted to move beyond the classroom and where, according to Miriam, "the latest mandates about testing, evaluations, and training were stifling our passion for teaching."

Debra added: "Tantamount to this was the 'punch in the gut' understanding of the silent, stifling vein and violent nature that the omission of LGBTQ history and content has perpetuated in our society. I have never felt such a profound sense of purpose as the mission of HUE; therefore, leaving the classroom was necessary. This work requires relentless energy and commitment."

"Miriam and I know, at our core," Debra continued, "that real and valid equality can only be achieved when students learn about LGBTQ history and content beyond the realms of victimization, health 'issues,' and stand-alone lessons. This needs to be woven into the curriculum and provided to all students (and educators) with the understanding that LGBTQ history IS history - a part of the development of our nation, national identity, and complex global community."

Miriam added: "We realized our strength was pedagogy, and our belief in staking the middle ground, recognizing that K-12 is different than college, and that parents are concerned and involved. And we both love teachers and believe that respect for teachers and the educational process is tantamount to our mission."

I asked Debra and Miriam the questions, "Why now?" According to Debra, "On June 26th, 2016, like a lightning bolt, the benchmark for equality shifted from marriage equality to education. Our students are ready for this. They are hungry for this and asking for it. Our students are surrounded by LGBTQ topics in pop-culture, social media, new legislation, and the news, but with nothing in their classroom curricula to help make connections and encourage a more sophisticated understanding and contribution to our increasingly complex global community. It is critical that LGBTQ topics are included in our nation's classrooms or the myths will persist."

The HUE project has received numerous endorsements from a list of organizations, including Harvard University's Kennedy School, CARR Center, ONE Archives Foundation at USC Libraries, Lowell National Historical Park, GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders), the National Park Service LGBT Initiatives Plan, Rainbow Heritage Network. Debra and Miriam are currently negotiating contracts and relationships with the Westford Massachusetts Public Schools, the Shady Hill Teacher Preparation Program, the Massachusetts PTA, and other groups. They are looking to branch out to other states across the United States.

To assist in the education response, HUE offers a number of services for individual educators and entire school systems, including workshop sessions, on-site training at schools, sustained mentorship, and visual history exhibits. Each of these formats includes explorations of the complexities of introducing LGBTQ history with expert historians, archivists, Library of Congress primary and secondary sources, HUE visual history exhibits, and support from psychosocial and behavioral specialists. The focus of the trainings is on providing teachers and staff in elementary, middle, and high school contexts explicit academic instruction in LGBTQ history, its intersection with Common Core standards and current curricula, and a connection with contemporary environments. In addition, HUE facilitators custom make each training to address the unique social and attitudinal components, cultures, climates, needs, and perspectives of each school or district. In addition, HUE provides presentations for parents and programs for students. All workshops and presentations are content rich and intellectually stimulating of any duration.

Unique to History UnErased is its F2M inquiry model, which creates relevancy for historical content and introduces teachers and students to LGBTQ history. HUE received a grant from the Library of Congress to teach inquiry methods and LGBTQ inclusive curricula using primary sources from the Library of Congress.

[Not a ] Conclusion:

Many minoritized people relate to the poignant words of poet and essayist Adrienne Rich when she writes: "When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you,...when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing."

Debra Fowler and Miriam Morgenstern have taken this moment in history to help break that "psychic disequilibrium" and bring about reflections in the schoolhouse mirror by reconstructing social history and social reality with the History UnErased project. The trend has been set in motion, for I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way. The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people.

For LGBTQ, questioning youth, and allies, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering. For heterosexual students, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward LGBTQ people. For all students, this content area has the potential to further engage students in the learning process from multiple perspectives.

To contact History UnErased, click here

Pop Quiz Answers:

1. c; 2. b: 3. c; 4. a; 5. d.

For Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld's extensive LGBTIQ History PowerPoint Presentations in two parts, click here for Part One, and Part Two.