California made history when the California State Board of Education voted Nov. 9 to approve 10 LGBTQ+-inclusive history textbooks for K-8 students, becoming the first U.S. state to do so.
The decision followed the path created by California’s 2011 FAIR Education Act, which required history and social sciences curricula to include the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities.
“Students will be more involved in learning when they start learning about people in LGBT history that relate to them, especially when they are a part of the LGBT community,” said Rob Darrow, director of research for the Safe Schools Project, one of the organizations that pushed for the teaching of LGBTQ+ history in California.
According to Polly Pagenhart, policy and communications director at Our Family Coalition, another organization that pushed for the change, the review process for the new textbooks included inspections by a review board, an instructional quality commission and the state board of education.
“One thing is having something that is written in the education code … and another thing is to take that and to apply that to the grade-level standards … and another thing entirely to have it appear in textbooks,” Pagenhart said.
One of the textbook changes, according to Pagenhart, was including families with parents of the same sex as an additional family type in the family diversity curriculum for second-grade students. Other examples include the history of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official, the history of LGBTQ+ individuals in colonial America and the cultural effect of California’s civil rights movement.
Darrow said the next big challenge will be coordinating with teachers to develop ways to teach LGBTQ+ history, a subject that no teacher has taught before. He added that a major step is to get teachers to be comfortable enough with the content to teach it.
“One of the things I like to say to teachers I work with is that there’s a difference between teaching LGBTQ history, advocating for a lifestyle and pushing a religious perspective. And we’re talking LGBTQ history here,” Darrow said. “It’s another social movement for teachers to teach.”
Darrow compared the teaching of LGBTQ+ history to the teaching of the women’s rights movement and other prominent social and civil rights movements in American history.
The approved textbooks will be sent to individual school districts across California, where each district will select which textbooks it wants to include in its curriculum.
“California is the first state that has done this, and so we’re excited to move it forward in our state so that other states can hopefully adopt the same framework,” Darrow said.