As a queer Hmong woman who is a member of multiple marginalized and historically silenced groups, the FAIR Education Act feels like an action long overdue. Growing up, I remember learning only about the contributions of white and presumably heterosexual men. I can recall feeling disconnected and confused. I looked around me and saw a myriad combinations of ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions and various other backgrounds in my peers. For that not to be reflected in history lessons baffled me. How is it that only one subset of a single race be the sole contributors to this nation?
October marks National LGBT History month, an opportunity to spend 31 days highlighting the achievements of LGBTQ-identified folks who have brought progress to America. But soon, thanks to state lawmakers, students in California will be able to learn about these contributions all year round.
In 2011, Governor Jim Brown passed the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful) Education Act to include the accomplishments made by LGBTQ historical figures in social science curriculum at K-12 schools all across California.
Current existing laws require that schools depict a fair representation of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups in textbooks. Not only will the Fair Education Act require school lessons to be LGBTQ-inclusive, the list will expand to include other marginalized groups, such as persons of disabilities and Pacific Islanders.
On September 28, 2017, the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) met and approved revisions of history and social science textbooks to include these marginalized communities. Emily Bender, Program Director of Sacramento LGBT Community Center, provided testimonial support at the IQC hearing because she believes that “the struggle for equality that we LGBTQ people have faced over the years helps us better understand our current day issues.” The California Department of Education will vote on accepting the recommended revisions in November 2017.
The law has faced opposition from religious, conservative, and parent groups. Some parents fear it as a tool to teach homosexuality and that children are too young to be discussing sexuality. According to the Protect Kids Foundation, parents feel concerned that by incorporating LGBTQ-affirming studies in school, schools are “impos[ing] their private lifestyles on all school children…” and that “It reduces the teaching of core academics in favor of political and sexual indoctrination.” Other oppositional claims include that the law would violate the innocence of children, promote gender confusion, and violate the parents’ rights to consent to have a say in their child’s education. Some go even as far to say inclusion of LGBTQ affirmative education is a form of “sexual brainwashing”.
Despite these claims, experts say children as young as age 2 or 3 start to develop a sense of their gender identity and attraction to genders. Teaching inclusivity for LGBTQ people has not been correlated to the conversion of heterosexual people “turning gay”. Additionally, LGBTQ-identified students report experiencing bullying at a rate twice as much due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression when compared to their heterosexual peers.
LGBTQ students report being five times as more likely to not attend school because of bullying. Being LGBTQ affirming has been shown to create an accepting, nurturing and open environment where everyone can express who they are, develop compassion for others who are different, and thrive.
I remember vividly the day in my high school history class when we learned the chapter about the Vietnam War and read about the Hmong involvement in the Secret War. It was only a small, single paragraph out of the entire chapter but reading that one passage filled me up with a sense of immense pride and validation. The struggles and victories of my people are seen and heard and will not be forgotten. Not if we are still alive and not unless we allow it to.
It’s time to disrupt the status quo. It’s time to teach our children American history that is fair, accurate, inclusive, and respectful of all its citizens who have built this country on their backs.