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Celebrate equality, teach LGBT Studies

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The Supreme Court’s recent decision to extend equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples is a milestone in the pursuit of equality, love, and civil rights for all.

It is also an important reminder of the value of teaching and celebrating the many contributions of the LGBT community and LGBT leaders in our school curriculum.

San Francisco LGBT students are three to six times more likely to be bullied, cyber-bullied, harassed, threatened or to skip school because of a safety concern, and the rates of these negative experiences are highest for transgender students.

Together with support services for LGBTQ youth and their families, an LGBT-inclusive curriculum can contribute to a safe and supportive school environment all students. Evidence shows that students whose school has an LGBT inclusive curriculum are more likely to feel safe and connected to school, and less likely to hear homophobic remarks or experience verbal or physical harassment or assault.

California has made notable progress towards delivering a more inclusive curriculum. The FAIR Education Act, authored by State Senator Mark Leno, requires that the role and contributions of members of the LGBT community to the economic, political and social development of California and the United States are included in history and social studies curriculum.

Full implementation of this act is essential, but mostly delegated to each school district statewide. San Francisco offers teachers appropriate curriculum maintained by our Support Services for LGBTQ Department, but there is more we can do.

For that reason, SFUSD has recently taken actions to strengthen and expand our LGBT inclusive curriculum: A survey of our schools and teachers regarding LGBT inclusive curriculum was sent out last school year to identify best practices and needs. Funding has been allocated for a teacher on special assignment who can focus, in part, on expanded support for implementation of LGBT inclusive curriculum.

And this fall, SFUSD will offer the first site-based LGBT Studies course at any public school in the nation, taught at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  

Drawing on the support of the broader San Francisco LGBT community, the LGBT Studies course will serve as a hub to impact and strengthen the inclusiveness of the curriculum across courses and schools.   As the interest and demand for this class grows, a hope is that over time it will be offered in most, if not all, SFUSD high schools, and spread to other districts, as well.  

Our public schools have a responsibility to provide an honest and accurate curriculum, fully reflective of our nation’s history, and inclusive of the experiences of marginalized groups too often excluded from the dominant historical narrative.   

All students can benefit from education regarding Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, the Stonewall Riots, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power Coalition (ACT UP), the transgender rights movement, and much more.

All students can gain from understanding how the experiences of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes and June Jordan in American society as both African-American and LGBT helped shape and inform their writings. Each child can find inspiration in the contributions of LGBT scientists, engineers, and leaders in technology like Alan Turing, Margaret Mead, and Tim Cook.

Every San Francisco school must provide an inclusive curriculum that recognizes the contributions, experiences and struggles of LGBT and other historically marginalized populations. This commitment constitutes a celebration of the Court’s recent decision made real, as knowledge creates the power that will foster and grow full equality for the next generation. Our students and our community deserve no less.

Matt Haney is vice president of the Board of Education for the San Francisco Unified School District.

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