Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I can still distinctly remember how fantastic it felt when sixth-grade me found an old, water-damaged copy of Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind on the shelves of my school library. It was the first time I realized that positive depictions of LGBTQ identities could be found somewhere within the walls of my school.
From health classes that ignore the experiences of LGBTQ people to history and English classes that lack positive representations of LGBTQ people, my school, like most schools, often fails when it comes to including LGBTQ identities in the curriculum. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, only 18.5 percent of LGBTQ students were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in their classes, even though LGBTQ students with an inclusive curriculum report more positive school climates and better educational outcomes.
When I was first discovering myself, navigating how my identity fit within my classes was frustrating at best, and painfully lonely at worst. If LGBTQ identities ever did get mentioned, it was as a brief afterthought — not true inclusion. In my classes, LGBTQ identities became a politicized concept rather than being recognized as true, lived parts of who people are.
It wasn’t until eighth grade that I realized the beauty and potential of a fully inclusive curriculum. My English and history teacher, a queer-identified woman, stressed the value of radical acceptance, taught about historical events and how they affected LGBTQ people, and fought for an LGBTQ young adult book to be required reading in the eighth-grade curriculum.
It was an incredibly liberating experience to exist inside the classroom wholly and freely. I was finally able to come out publicly as transgender and begin living life on my own terms. When I came out to my class, every single person in the room could understand where I was coming from, and it was because we had a teacher who insisted on inclusion and acceptance as part of her curriculum.
I now realize how incredibly rare that is in any school, and how lucky I was to be there. That I was able to have some of those truly positive experiences shows that we’ve come a long way. Nevertheless, not all of my classes have had an inclusive curriculum. Many of my LGBTQ friends feel the same loneliness and sense of being unwelcome as I once did, and they often skip class because they feel excluded and unable to be themselves.
In order to have safe and affirming schools for LGBTQ students, we must have LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. Right now, as we approach election season, you can help make sure every school has an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum by signing GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that every candidate for President support LGBTQ students. This includes supporting LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in every school.
I signed the letter because I know firsthand the positive impact of an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and how it feels to open a book and see yourself in the pages. Will you join me and sign the letter, too?
Emme Goldman is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.