Friday, April 20 , 2018, 6:14 am | Fair 47º


Tyler Renner: For LGBTQ and Students with Disabilities, Curriculum Rarely Reflects Their Histories

How many white, heterosexual male historical figures can you name? How many scientists, politicians or artists can you think of who reflect this image? Now consider how many historical figures you know who were, or are, women, people of color, people with disabilities, or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Has our world and all its significant historical, scientific and cultural contributions really been shaped solely by able-bodied, straight, white men? Or is there something in our education system that slights those who didn’t write our history books? While Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. or Caesar Chavez may come to mind, few can readily name a person with disabilities or an LGBT figure.

While tokenized lessons of women’s history or “celebrations” of Black History Month are far from reflecting the true diversity of student demographics, LGBT and students with disabilities rarely or never see role models or heroes who share their identities. These students may look at curriculum and historical figures, not as a reflection of people like them, but rather as a window into a world that doesn’t recognize, let alone celebrate people like them.

That’s where California’s Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful or FAIR Education Act comes in. Signed into law in 2011, state Senate Bill 48 amended the California Education Code to require schools to incorporate factual information about social movements, current events and history of people with disabilities and LGBT people into social studies lessons. The law compels the input and involvement of community organizations that represent such demographics, such as Pacific Pride Foundation and the Independent Living Resource Center.

Pacific Pride surveyed more than 300 students from 2013-2014 to assess school climates for LGBTQ students. The data revealed an overall actual lack of safety, comfort and acceptance and a high frequency of homophobic language, but one question highlights our need for FAIR. When asked, “How many times have you received education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) issues at school (presentations, speakers, classroom discussions)? More than half of students reported that they had never or only once discussed LGBTQ topics.

(Tyler Renner photo)
(Tyler Renner photo)

When asked, “Are there resources at your school library or are you able to use school computers to access websites that contain information about LGBTQ people, history or events?”, 60 percent reported they “didn’t know.”

Equality California, a nonprofit civil rights organization, reports that, “schools that perpetuate silence or harmful stereotypes about LGBT people can be breeding grounds for the fear and ignorance that fuel bullying during the early grades and hate violence or even suicide by the time students reach high school.” Research shows that diversity curriculum leads to safer, happier and better performing schools, but one student said it all, “If we got LGBTQ education, then there wouldn’t be such a taboo around this and people would stop being made fun of.”

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has taken some initial steps in implementing the FAIR Act, but with changes in Common Core State Standards and already high demands, we’re far from assuring all students receive a FAIR education.

In the meantime, Pacific Pride offers LGBTQ history lessons and guest speakers. This fall, under the supervision of Lelia Rupp, professor and author of Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, UC Santa Barbara students will design and teach LGBTQ lesson plans on a larger scale.

Brianna Camacho, from Dos Pueblos High School, said of the lessons presented to her classes, “As an English teacher, I wish there were more opportunities within our curriculum for students to read and learn about the history and contributions of the LGBTQ community. Tyler (Renner)’s presentation on Harvey Milk afforded the students this exact kind of opportunity. It was eye-opening, informative and powerful for them to learn about and discuss Harvey Milk’s tribulations and successes in terms of working toward progression for the LGBTQ community. The students and I enjoyed and appreciated this presentation and I believe that we need more of these to be held throughout the year.”

Three years after being signed into law, LGBTQ and students with disabilities still lack role models and inclusive education. Until leadership is taken by school districts, the history of secrecy and shame around underrepresented identities will simply repeat itself.

» Click here for more information about the FAIR Act, LGBTQ history lessons or Pacific Pride Foundation, or contact Tyler Renner at [email protected] or 805.893.3636 x117.

» Click here for more information about the Independent Living Resource Center or presentations on the disability community, or contact ILRC community living advocate Danielle Anderson at [email protected].

— Tyler Renner is the LGBTQ program coordinator at Pacific Pride Foundation, and runs an LGBTQ youth group, provides outreach to schools to support Gay-Straight Alliances, and conducts LGBTQ Cultural Competency and Sensitivity Trainings for social services agencies and organizations. He can be contacted at 805.893.3636 x117 or at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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