Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching LGBTQIQ* History in High School
Is it appropriate to teach teenagers about this topic?
Today’s students are immersed in media full of images and discussions about homosexuality and gender through pop culture, the news, and the internet. We will be providing them with accurate historical information and cultural frameworks to understand the issues in mature ways. Many other high school humanities courses cover all of the same topics as this course — love, relationships, marriage, gender, sex, politics, art — but about heterosexuals. We will respect all of the same boundaries about appropriateness. We are aware that this topic asks people to examine their cultural traditions. We will address these issues with sensitivity and respect.
How will you approach the topic of sex?
First, this course is about sexual identity, not sex. Sexual identity means how people label themselves – ie gay, lesbian, heterosexual—and the effects those identities have on them and society. Sex (meaning the act of sex) is covered in health courses, not history classes. At the same time, avoiding sexuality entirely would distort the course. Imagine reading about Romeo and Juliet but skipping the morning dove scene because they are in bed together. We will not cover anything graphic. At the beginning of the course, we make it clear to students that we have a clear “bright line” on this topic – we cover sexual identity, not sex. The standards will be the same as other courses at our school.
Why do Gays and Lesbians get special attention? There are so many important issues in history and so little time.
In the US, there are a host of issues coming to the fore around Gays and Lesbians. The past 10 years have shown that these issues and people will not disappear. To engage with these political and social questions effectively, all students need to have a basic understanding of the issues. We are not adding extra information — this material fills an important gap in our curriculum. The history of LGBT people has been hidden from history. The cultures created by LGBT communities stretch back into antiquity and have had a profound influence on every culture. But most people do not have any idea of the depth of its importance to our philosophies, politics, ethics, today. We are teaching historical facts.
Are you open to debates about the appropriateness of this lifestyle?
Our school is very interested in debate and dialogue about these issues. However, our school is not open to debates about the full humanity of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, intersex or questioning.
We want to make sure the class is a safe and supportive environment. Discussion and debate are important parts of the learning process and they will be in this class. The gay rights movement is asking mainstream society to change its ideas of morality. We will learn about all sides of that debate with sympathy to the deeply held values of all sides. If students decide that they do not accept homosexuality or trans identity, that is their choice. But they need to understand the facts and learn how to engage in discussions that are respectful and tolerant.
Are you asking students to change their identities?
We are not recruiting students into a gay lifestyle. We will not be advocating for students to become gay. We believe that people are born with their sexual orientation. We will be celebrating LGBTQ culture and history. We will also study it realistically, looking at the positive and negative aspects and challenges of the life.
* LGBTQIQ is the acronym for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Questioning – the inclusive term for what is called the Gay community. We also use LGBT or gay and lesbian for brevity.