“Should kindergarten include books about being transgender?” asks an LA Times column this week. For me, the answer is simple: To say that any child is too young to learn about LGBTQ people is essentially the same as saying that LGBTQ people shouldn’t be parents. At the same time, teachers may need some help in presenting LGBTQ topics accurately and with sensitivity. Let’s review some resources that can help.
First, let’s note that the kindergarten question is essentially the same one that’s been asked for years about books for young children featuring LGB people. It was used as a weapon against marriage equality during California’s Prop 8 battle in 2008 and in other marriage equality battles across the country as well. That same year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of two couples from Lexington, Massachusetts who said their school district violated their constitutional rights when it included LGBTQ-inclusive books in its elementary school curriculum. Four years later, though, a study from GLSEN found that during classroom discussions of families, nearly 90 percent of elementary school teachers taught students about different types of families—but less than a quarter included representations of LGB parents, and less than 10 percent included transgender parents.
As I wrote at the time, the GLSEN survey also found that homophobic slurs started early, and many elementary school students saw peers bullied or harassed because they were thought to be gay or didn’t conform to traditional gender norms/roles. To the people who say elementary students are too young to learn about LGBTQ people, I said then and I’ll say again: They already know about them—but many know only based on slurs and misconceptions. Not only that, but the children of LGBTQ parents can’t help but know about LGBTQ people, because they live with them. That leads to the equation above, which bears repeating: To say that any child is too young to learn about LGBTQ people is essentially the same as saying that LGBTQ people shouldn’t be parents.
Picture books can help in the early years of school, but Casey Quinlan of Think Progress recently wrote an excellent article about how “The history of LGBTQ people isn’t being taught in our schools” even in later grades. Learning LGBTQ history can help students, both LGBTQ and not, she explains, to better understand their world.
Her article reminds us, too, that simply reading or assigning a book is not enough. Given the unfortunate sensitivities some parents, educators, and community members have about LGBTQ inclusion in schools, it pays for teachers, administrators, and parents to put some thought into the resources used and boosting their own ability to answer questions that students may raise. Quinlan highlights the History UnErased project that seeks to address that with training and resources for educators. Additional resources that can help educators introduce LGBTQ people and history to their classrooms include:
- My annual list of LGBTQ Back-to-School Resources. While I put this together with parents in mind, there are lots of items there on both school climate and curriculum that are aimed at teachers as well.
- The many children’s books in the newly revamped Mombian Shop, including Young Children’s Books on LGBTQ History and Pride and LGBTQ Middle-Grade Nonfiction (including history), as well as a number of books specifically for educators on LGBTQ topics.
- “Unheard Voices: Stories of LGBT History,” a joint project of ADL, GLSEN, and StoryCorps that offers “an oral history and curriculum project that will help educators to integrate LGBT history, people and issues into their instructional programs.” Note that this was created in 2011 and was supposed to be updated post-marriage equality, but hasn’t been, as near as I can tell. Use with care. Includes standards-aligned lesson plans for grades six and up.
- Educational website BrainPop’s newish unit on Harvey Milk, created in collaboration with GLSEN. (And without denying Milk’s importance, note Quinlan’s point at Think Progress that teaching about LGBTQ history should go beyond simply discussing Milk and Stonewall.)
Know of others? Leave a comment!