Given that the world we live in so often erases queer identities from the lives of young people, it is imperative that young queer children see themselves throughout history just as much as straight and cisgender students do. We live in a world that constantly demeans LGBT+ people just for being who they are, and hardly any straight, cisgender adult is willing to discuss LGBT+ identities with children because they’re still thought of as “adult” and taboo topics. This attitude doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s not protecting straight kids, it’s just making it more difficult for LGBT+ kids to understand what they are feeling and why, which can too often lead to suffering. A majority of my queer friends, as well as myself, struggled with internalized homophobia, forcing ourselves into crushes on the opposite gender or conforming to genders that didn’t quite fit. We were miserable.
In American Literature we were all too happy to talk about Poe’s marriage to his cousin 12 years his junior and Fitzgerald’s lavish and occasionally violent marriage to Zelda Sayre, but we never mentioned Whitman’s homosexuality or his several love affairs with men despite studying Leaves of Grass. In history we studied the transcendentalist movement, but never spoke about the homoerotic subtext, and sometimes not so “sub” as is the case of Moby Dick, of Melville’s writing, nor his own struggles with his sexuality, we talked about the lost generation and the disparity within the “Roaring Twenties” but never about Gertrude Stein, a lesbian without whom we would not even have the phrase “lost generation”.
We talk about the movements that queer people have been influential in, but never about the queer people themselves. To someone who isn’t LGBT+, mentioning a person’s sexuality or gender identity may not seem like a big deal, but for queer kids, it’s a reminder that they’re not the only person who feels the way they do.
It’s proof that you can be LGBT+ and not be reduced to your identity or pushed to the edges of society.
We live in a world afraid of difference, afraid of people who express themselves in a way we are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with, and all too often that includes LGBT-identifying people who are open and proud about their identity. Incorporating LGBT+ topics into school curriculums not only allows LGBT+ students to see themselves in the world as functioning, productive and important members of society, it also normalizes LGBT+ identities for cisgender and heterosexual students, making it less likely they’ll be weirded out by or bigoted towards their classmates should they come out.
According to statistics offered by the CDC, between 12-28% of LGBT+ youth have been threatened or injured by a weapon on school grounds. The same source states that stress suffered by LGBT+ youth as a result of their identity puts them at a greater risk for depression, substance abuse, and dangerous sexual behavior that put gay and bisexual males at a greater risk of contracting HIV. LGBT youth are in danger just existing in this world and it is on the adults in their life to protect them until they are equipped to fight for themselves.
In every American state, there are compulsory education laws, the age range varies from state to state but they all say that children, typically from the ages of 5-7 to 16-18, must attend some form of education that is up to state standards. This means that kids in their developmental and self-discovering stages are going to be environments that aren’t necessarily safe. Schools need to take it upon themselves to ensure the safety of all of their students, and that means making it a place where LGBT+ teens can express themselves without fear of physical or mental abuse from students or staff.