The LGBT history debate: Local students, educators, others weigh in on California measure to teach classes in schools

Students in California public schools will soon be taught LGBT history statewide for the first time.

Some students, educators and parents in other states – including Minnesota – support the push for LGBT history in schools, while others say it is not right to be taught in school. In Minnesota, a state that has had vigorous public discussions about same-sex marriage and transgender bathrooms, a measure like this would likely stir controversy.

The California State Board of Education voted this summer to adopt a new History-Social Science Framework that includes the roles of minority groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. It complied with a 2012 California law requiring better representation of the LGBT community and other minority groups in history classes.

Starting in second grade, California students will be taught about diverse family structures, including families with LGBT parents. The goal is to help students “locate themselves and their families in history and learn about lives and the historical struggles of their peers,” according to a statement by the board.

In fourth grade, students will learn the history of California, including the founding of the first gay rights organization in the 1950s. Through high school, the teaching will expand to societal meanings, gender roles in history and relevant Supreme court cases.

In Minnesota, some say they would support LGBT history being taught in school.

“I personally think it’s a good thing,” said Katelyn Vang, a sophomore from St. Paul Harding High School. “If you start them young, as they get older they won’t judge people.”

Her opinion is shared by Tou Ger Vang, also a Harding student (no relation). He identifies as “queer” and said more opportunity to dis- cuss LGBT issues in school would help him relate to his peers and his more traditional family members.

“I could be a person with more courage,” he said, “and a person with more personality.”

Anne Zielske, a science teacher and advisor of Gender Sexuality Alliance at St. Paul Harding, said offering LGBT history classes could help lift the burden of students not feeling accepted.

“Almost all the LGBTQ adults I am close to have expressed pain during their teen years due to the burdens of feeling like they weren’t ‘normal,’ keeping part of themselves hidden, judging themselves harshly or being judged harshly by others, and fearing reactions of family and friends,” Zielske said. “People cannot learn and develop fully when they are stressed or afraid.”

Zielske feels the teaching of LGBT history in classes would bring a positive outcome to society.

“I think anything our schools can do, such as sharing stories and histories, to help people to walk in the shoes of another or to improve the understanding of people for one another is good and important in our diverse society,” she said.

Others believe states, including Minnesota, should not follow California’s example.

Stephani Liesmaki, the director of communications for the Minnesota Family Council, a Christian organization focusing on strengthening families, said the council is against the teaching of LGBT history in schools.

“Kids need a mom and a dad,” Liesmaki said. “That content [LGBT history] is not appropriate to second-graders. They aren’t ready to process those kinds of ideas or to think clearly about that topic. It could produce a lot of confusion and it’s really important that materials are presented at an appropriate age.”

The goal is to have the California curriculum changes in place for next school year, according to a report. There is currently no similar measure in Minnesota.