LGBTQ+ History in Social Studies Classes

One of the purposes of social studies classes is to teach students the history of the world we live in. As we form a better understanding of our history, it allows us to strengthen our appreciation for our current society and not repeat previous mistakes. With a history of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, it has become increasingly important to include a diverse education highlighting the history of LGBTQ+ societal acceptance.

In a survey sent to Mountainside students and social studies teachers, the difference between student and teacher responses to LGBTQ+ material in social studies classes were staggering. The survey asked a variety of questions looking to dig into what LGBTQ+ education students were receiving. The most interesting finding of the survey was that 90.9% of student responders could not recall learning any LGBTQ+ history throughout their experience in high school social studies. However, the teacher’s responses revealed that 100% of them can recall teaching LGBTQ+ history in their classes. Despite the disconnect on the material being taught, both students and teachers agreed that LGBTQ+ history is necessary and should be discussed in most social studies classes at least once.

Four social studies teachers responded to the survey. They teach a variety of courses including IB Economics, AGC 1 and 2, Theory of Knowledge, IB Global Politics, and World Religions. The responses from the teachers show that all of them recall teaching LGBTQ+ history. Some examples provided of this history taught include Stonewall, the Gay Rights Movement, and Gay Marriage as a movement. Other responses show that LGBTQ+ material is taught in class; but is more focused on current events in the Supreme Court, developing countries, and LGBTQ+ issues revolving around religious and political developments. 

It is important to note before covering more specifics of the student survey that it only garnered 22 responses, leaving room to question the accuracy of it as a representation of the whole student body’s education. 50% of responses came from seniors, indicating that completion of social studies courses was not the issue with missing knowledge. Perhaps most worryingly, 68.7% of responders said they weren’t confident in their knowledge of LGBTQ+ history due to a lack of it being taught in social studies classes.

The majority of teachers reported that they do debates/discussions on current events, however, they also frequently discuss how context is important. Without the history of the LGBTQ+ community, is it possible to give those discussions their full deserved representation? It would be highly difficult to discuss current-day racism without talking about previous actions against POC communities. Something is causing a disconnect between what students have learned and what teachers teach, which may indicate that current social studies material underrepresents many notable people and milestones in the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. 

A change needs to be made to this curriculum. Side lessons or choice assignments won’t reach the people who need it. One week of lessons on the history of LGBTQ+ people; nationally or internationally, covering topics like Stonewall, the timeline of legalization of rights, or systems in place which have made living life as a part of the community harder like the history of conversion camps.