Opinion

LGBT people have changed history. This school district’s vote reflects it

A look at the new K-5 curriculum adopted by Rocklin Unified school board

Rocklin Unified School District has appoved new K-5 curriculum that includes LGBT figures.
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Rocklin Unified School District has appoved new K-5 curriculum that includes LGBT figures.

It wasn’t quite the Stonewall uprising or the “Winter of Love,” but the Rocklin Unified School District made some LGBT history last week. The district’s trustees voted 3-2 to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in a new history and social studies curriculum for its K-5 students.

This sensible decision sparked passionate debate in conservative Rocklin. The meeting went on past midnight. It was held in a gym to accommodate larger than usual attendance. Supporters and opponents of the new curriculum shared passionate testimony, according to a story by The Sacramento Bee’s Sawsan Morrar.

“Many supporters of the curriculum wore yellow, and both sides cheered their speakers and were filled with emotions during public comments,” wrote Morrar.

At issue is a 2011 California law, the California FAIR Education Act, that requires new curricula to be more inclusive of people who have historically been underrepresented in history books. This includes LGBT people, but also people with disabilities and different religious backgrounds.

Opponents say they believe LGBT accomplishments should be honored, but they think elementary students should be shielded from the topic of sexuality.

“We believe that anyone who has made a significant contribution to society should, of course, be included in our history textbooks,” said Rachel Crutchfield, spokeswoman for Informed Parents of Rocklin, a group opposed to the inclusive curriculum. “However, the concept of sexual orientation is far too complex of a topic for elementary-aged children to be introduced to at school.”

Rocklin math teacher Amy Bently disagreed.

“Many students enter middle school already knowing they’re different, which is why it’s so important for this curriculum to be adopted at the elementary level,” said Bently.

Bently makes an important point. If kids who may be LGBT never see or hear anything about the contributions of LGBT people in history, what will they think?

Besides, kids are already exposed to the idea of sexuality through pop culture and television. And let’s not forget the playground, where the word “gay” has long been used as a pejorative term.

Kids know sexuality exists. The question is whether they know that a person’s sexuality – or race, religion and disability – is no obstacle to success.

American history is full of tricky subjects for young minds. It’s a story of triumph over tyranny and the creation of a new nation, but also a story of genocide and slavery. It’s a story of freedom and democracy, but also a story of people who must fight for their rights at every turn.

For far too long, LGBT history – like LGBT lives – remained locked in the closet. People lived in fear of losing their careers, or even their lives, for being themselves. This remains true in many countries, like Brunei, which recently adopted a law that prescribes death by stoning as a punishment for LGBT people.

When you erase people from history, you erase their humanity. Sexuality is part of that humanity. That’s why it’s important for kids to learn Sally Ride was a lesbian astronaut and that Harvey Milk was a pioneering gay political leader. And who can tell the story of Gov. Gavin Newsom without mentioning his historic role as a catalyst for marriage equality?

LGBT people have changed history. Rocklin Unified’s brave decision reflects this.

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