Were you taught queer history in school?
Statistically, it’s unlikely. According to GLSEN, an American LGBTQ+ student advocacy organization, only 20% of students have access to positive representations of queer history, people, or events in the classroom. Less than half of queer students report having easy access to LGBTQ+ topics in their school library, and only 8.2% could find “many resources” about their own history. Students experience this dearth of information at a critical time in their lives, while they’re growing into their own gender or sexual identities and often confronting anti-queer rhetoric among their peers or family. In other words, we’re failing our students.
This failure isn’t the result of bad teaching, but rather, the consequence of bad politics. Right now, six states––Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas-–explicitly prohibit teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ topics or portraying them in a positive light. And although these “no promo homo” laws primarily target sex education classes, GLSEN has found that they still negatively affect entire schools: even after controlling for political attitudes and school funding, nearly ten million students in “no promo homo” states had less supportive teachers, lacked LGBTQ+ resources, and were more likely to receive negative representations of LGBTQ+ topics.
On the other side of the spectrum, in states that mandate LGBTQ+ history, students still lack access to it. For example, in 2011, California passed the FAIR Education Act, which required the inclusion of queer history in textbooks and social studies curricula. But California didn’t approve its first queer-inclusive textbook for elementary and middle school students until 2017. Nearly ten years after the law’s passage, only 31% of California students reported learning LGBTQ+ history. In California and five other states that mandate the teaching of queer history, there are few enforcement mechanisms, little funding, and often a lack of teacher training.
“Even in states where restrictive laws don’t exist, some teachers don’t feel comfortable teaching these topics because of lack of support on the micro level – within their school districts, from their principal or from the parents,” explains Shannon Snapp, professor of psychology at California State University-Monterey Bay. “If there was pushback from one of these levels, there could be actual repercussions.”
On top of all these barriers, teachers must also grapple with a lack of resources freely available to them. “Most of the inclusive resources that exist are student-facing, and all are copyrighted, preventing teachers from sharing resources by, say, copying and pasting sections into their school’s teaching toolkits, even when they are free,” says Sabia Prescott of the New America Foundation. To put it simply, in 2021, it’s unacceptably difficult to teach––and to learn––queer history.
QUEER HISTORY 101
That’s why I’ve created QUEER HISTORY 101, the world’s first year-long queer history class, made freely available to the world, here on Bulletin. Each week, I’ll discuss a different aspect of how queer folks have survived and thrived throughout the millennia: from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt to Queer Berlin and Harlem’s ball culture. Once per week, beginning next week, I’ll introduce the groundbreaking research of queer historians from across the world in lessons meant for anyone: students, teachers (who are welcome to use or reproduce them) and the general public. We’ll have suggested readings, discussion questions, and live events. Our class will be welcoming, fun, educational, and easy.
Although I’m primarily a historian of American queer history, I’ll do my best to summarize and suggest resources from other scholars who have dedicated their lives to uncovering the true history of the global queer community. I’ll be constructing this class without the resources of a university or a textbook publisher, so inevitably, it won't be perfect. But I pledge that I’ll do everything in my power to create an inclusive portrait of global queer history, capturing our vibrant and diverse experiences since ancient times.
I would be so grateful if you subscribed and shared this course, especially to students or educators who might find it useful. And if you have any suggestions for lesson topics, resources, or discussion questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Above all, QUEER HISTORY 101 is an experiment in online, inclusive education, and it’s my hope that it will become better and better over time, encouraging others to share our history and ensure that every student in America––and across the globe––learns that we’ve been here and queer since the dawn of humanity.
When was the first time you learned some aspect of queer history? What did that feel like?
What was it like growing up as a queer person in your schooling? How would an increased awareness of queer history have helped with that experience?
What resources have you used to achieve a better understanding of the queer community that came before us? A mentor? A peer? A publication or film?
What do you hope to learn in QUEER HISTORY 101?
It would mean the world if you subscribed by clicking below. It's only one lesson per week, completely free, and no homework! ;)