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The LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented in history classrooms across the United States. In their 2021 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that nearly 72% of youth had never been exposed to representations of LGBTQ+ people, history, or events in school lessons.
While Pride Month is gaining popularity in modern culture, this lack of inclusive education means that most students enter college with little to no knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community and its roots. As a result, students may perpetuate bias and discrimination, causing queer students to feel unsafe.
Educators in higher education often have more freedom over what and how they teach. One way to promote inclusivity and belonging in your classroom is to highlight LGBTQ+ History Month. LGBTQ+ History Month is in October and coincides with National Coming Out Day on October 11th and Spirit Day on the third Thursday in October.
In this article, we’ll provide ways to incorporate LGBTQ+ history into your existing curricula, so you can increase visibility of queer changemakers and expand students’ worldview.
LGBTQ+ History Month vs. Pride Month
Pride Month is in June and serves as a global celebration of queer identities and culture. LGBTQ+ History Month, founded in 1994 by high school teacher Rodney Wilson, serves as an opportunity for classrooms to explore the historical contexts and contributions of the queer community.
Some key milestones that have impacted the LGBTQ+ journey include the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which marked the inception of the modern gay rights movement, and the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage in 2015. Other milestones to explore and share include the impact of the AIDS epidemic, the evolution of LGBTQ+ advocacy, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights.
5 Ways to Incorporate LGBTQ+ History in Existing Curricula
1. Integrate LGBTQ+ Media
Integrating LGBTQ+ media into your course materials educates students on the community’s history while exposing them to diverse narratives. The best way to integrate LGBTQ+ media is by finding something that aligns with your course objectives. For example, if you teach psychology, a historical documentary featuring first-person accounts may be valuable.
There’s an array of LGBTQ+ media available, including articles, books, videos, and podcasts. Here are some examples of resources you can use:
Informing students about LGBTQ+ history through media can help them connect historical struggles of marginalized communities to present-day issues.
When introducing LGBTQ+ media, challenge students to critically analyze the video, podcast, or text. Doing so can stimulate meaningful discussions on topics like representation, identity, and social justice.
Some thoughtful questions may include:
- How does this media depict societal attitudes and perceptions toward LGBTQ+ individuals during the time or setting in which it takes place?
- Are there moments in this media that highlight the impact of discrimination, prejudice, or stigma on LGBTQ+ characters?
- What role do supportive communities or allies play in this media, and how does this affect LGBTQ+ experiences?
2. Conduct Oral History Projects
Oral history projects offer a unique approach to exploring LGBTQ+ history. Oral histories are a way of generating and preserving personal recollections with recorded interviews. Through oral histories, students can engage directly with voices from the queer community.
There are various ways to design an oral history project, including having students interview queer individuals on campus or having students interview activists in the community. Students can find people to interview through the LGBTQ+ center on campus or through local organizations.
Here are some resources to guide your project design:
- Interviews of CCBC LGBTQ+ Heroes: An Oral History Project
- LGBTQIA Oral History Project | Princeton Gender + Sexuality Resource Center
- LGBTQ Oral History Project Guide | City of Savannah GA
Have students explore oral histories from the LGBTQ Digital Collaboratory.
Students can search the library or the internet for videos and audio recordings that connect them to queer individuals and activists. They can then compile what they’ve learned and share it with the class.
3. Perform Qualitative Research on Campus
Educators that teach in the arts may have an easier time incorporating LGBTQ+ history into their curriculum. But for educators with research-focused courses, the relevancy of the topic may not be clear.
Qualitative research is a flexible form of assessment where integrating LGBTQ+ history could be valuable. When teaching research skills like interviewing, data collection, and data analysis, encourage students to explore the queer experience.
Potential research topics include:
- Investigating LGBTQ+ housing experiences on campus.
- Gathering opinions on how the campus can become more inclusive.
- Exploring perspectives of queer faculty vs. students.
- Comparing the student experience between queer and non-queer students.
By gathering data in real time, students can foster a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals within their community.
4. Highlight LGBTQ+ Changemakers in Your Discipline
It’s important to incorporate LGBTQ+ history while staying aligned to your course objectives. Introducing LGBTQ+ changemakers within your discipline is a great way to do that. Whether you teach film studies or mathematics, there are LGBTQ+ figures you can highlight who have left an enduring mark on society.
Author James Baldwin
Credit: Allan Warren, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Here are some examples of LGBTQ+ changemakers in various disciplines:
|Discipline You Teach||LGBTQ+ Changemakers|
|📹Film Studies||Lily and Lana Wachowski are some of the first openly transgender directors in Hollywood.|
|Jennie Livingston is a filmmaker known for the documentary Paris is Burning (1990), which highlighted New York City’s drag ball culture.|
|📈 Math||Alan Turing was a British mathematician who helped break the Enigma Code and was later arrested for being gay.|
|Shakuntala Devi holds the Guinness World Record for “Fastest Human Computation.” In 1977, she wrote “The World of Homosexuals,” which was the first published academic study of homosexuality in India.|
|🧬 Science||Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was revealed to be gay when her obituary referred to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her female partner of 27 years.|
|Audrey Tang has been described as one of the “ten greatest Taiwanese computing personalities.” She is also Taiwan’s first-ever Digital Affairs Minister. Tang identifies as post-gender.|
|📚 English||James Baldwin was a writer and civil rights activist. He believed sexuality is fluid and should not be divided by strict categories.|
|Audre Lorde was a self-described “Black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet, warrior,” who was known for her writings on lesbian feminism and racial issues.|
|🌎 History||Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.|
|Barbara Jordan was elected to Congress in 1972. She was the first African American woman elected to Congress from the South since 1898.|
|🎶 Music||Billy Tipton was a famous transgender jazz musician, whose assigned gender at birth wasn’t revealed until his death in 1989.|
|Gladys Bentley was a performer during the Harlem Renaissance. The New York Times said Bentley was “Harlem’s Most Famous Lesbian” in the 1930s.|
By highlighting these LGBTQ+ changemakers, you not only provide role models for queer students, but you emphasize the importance and relevance of LGBTQ+ contributions to society.
Reach out to LGBTQ+ activists or artists in your area. Ask if they’d be willing to speak with your class in person or through a virtual call.
Hearing directly from an LGBTQ+ changemaker and fostering a dialogue with them can help students feel connected to others who differ from themselves.
5. Teach LGBTQ+ Allyship
An essential aspect of fostering an inclusive environment during LGBTQ+ History Month is to educate students on allyship. You can teach allyship by first helping students check their privilege and biases. This awareness requires metacognition, which isn’t always easy. But once students become aware, they’ll see the world from a wider lens.
Other ways to teach allyship include:
- Creating activities where students can practice empathy in the classroom.
- Using inclusive language and having students practice using it.
- Exposing students to ideas different from their own.
You can teach students to be LGBTQ+ allies through explicit direction and through the environment you create. When your classroom becomes a safe space for students to analyze, question, and respectfully discuss hard topics, you help build the confidence they’ll need to speak up elsewhere.
It’s important for you to be an active ally before teaching allyship to students. One way to remain informed in this area is to participate in faculty trainings surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Reach out to your school administrators to explore the options available to you. There are also many training resources available online, such as these events offered by the National Equity Project.
Keep Students Informed and Empathetic
LGBTQ+ History Month provides an opportunity for educators to prioritize inclusivity in the classroom.
Integrating LGBTQ+ history—regardless of your discipline—also fosters a sense of belonging for queer students who may otherwise feel excluded. Whether you incorporate LGBTQ+ history in October or elsewhere in your curriculum, doing so creates a better learning experience for all.
About the Author
Morgan Westling is an Associate Content Specialist at Course Hero. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from The University of the South. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been writing for over 7 years. Find more of her work at www.morganwestling.com.