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LGBTQ History Should Be Taught In Schools. Here's Why.

So few of us actually know our history. It's time for us to reclaim and preserve it.

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If you’re on Buzzfeed, then you probably love quizzes, right? Try this quick quiz:

1.Why is the pink triangle used as a symbol in the LGBT community?

2.What is the meaning of the rainbow flag?

3.What were the Compton Cafeteria Riots?

4.Draw a picture of the Transgender Pride flag, and identify the meaning of each element.

5.Who were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin?

6.What was the Mattachine Society?

7.What was the Pink Scare?

If you answered all seven questions correctly, then congratulations, you’re a true LGBTQ scholar. But if you missed one or two, you’re in good company. And if you had no idea what the answer was to any of the questions, please don’t beat yourself up. Because it’s not your fault. How are you supposed to know any of this if no one ever told you? If our stories are told in ways that distort reality, or if they’re not told at all, then we end up with an entire generation of people who have no knowledge of their roots. And that, in my opinion, is very dangerous.

In fact, it’s already happening. At least, that’s what I see in my college classrooms. Most of my LGBTQ students have no knowledge whatsoever of their history. And these are kids who grew up in California, the land of the FAIR Education Act, which requires LGBTQ history and culture to be incorporated into public K-12 social studies curriculum.

When I was in public school, I never learned anything about LGBTQ history. In fact, most of what I know I learned after I graduated from high school. And despite the fact that I have a doctoral degree, I’ve gained almost all of my knowledge of LGBTQ history by word of mouth. Kind of like a game of Telephone. And I’m sure you know how Telephone usually ends. Stories get twisted around, told and re-told, to the point where the original story becomes lost. Sadly, a lot of LGBTQ history has been lost forever, simply because no one felt that it was important enough to record. Or because no one bothered to listen to people who wanted to tell these stories.

Which is why I think it’s so important for schools, from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, to incorporate LGBTQ history into their curriculum.

Of course, some teachers will never do this. But I think many teachers would like to, but they don’t know where to start. There are some great resources out there – GLSEN, for example, has lesson plans readily available for teachers. But we need more. A LOT more.

Which is why I write for children.

Three years ago, my first picture book, This Day in June, was published. On the surface, This Day in June is a fun rhyming story about an LGBTQ Pride celebration. People liked the story, but so many of them LOVED the overview of LGBTQ history and culture in the back of the book. “I had no idea about any of this!” was the most common thing people told me, which didn’t surprise me. A lot of people quietly sidled up to me and whispered, “I’m embarrassed that I DON’T know about most of this.” That didn’t surprise me either, because this information isn’t usually taught in schools. To be fair, some of that isn’t the schools’ fault. Last time I checked, I could only find one picture book about an LGBTQ-identified public figure. That book is titled The Harvey Milk Story. And it’s out of print.

“Nobody’s recording our history for children,” I kept thinking to myself. And then, I read an article in the Huffington Post that quoted Dustin Lance Black, who produced the ABC miniseries “When We Rise.” At the time the article was published, Black was fielding criticism that the show wasn’t inclusive enough. This was his response:

“To anyone who says, ‘Hey, I didn’t see me represented in ‘When We Rise,’ and they’re angry about that, I say, ‘Good! Get angry, and get writing!’”

I read that, and I thought: I could write stories for children about LGBTQ history. I could help people connect their present-day experience with past events. If I wrote books about our history for kids, teachers would have resources they could use in their classrooms. And adults would benefit too: picture books could help them connect their present-day experience with past events.

My newest book, When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, will help you answer question #5 on the quiz posted above. (Hint: Imagine a lesbian power couple who began their activist efforts in the 1950s, and you’re off to a good start.) This Day in June provides a little history of the pink triangle and the rainbow flag. If you want answers to the other questions, you probably won’t find them in any school textbooks. But that history is available, and someone needs to write it.

Maybe you could be that person. Now, the answers to the quiz:

1. Here's the terrible history of the pink triangle.

2. And here's the beautiful history of the rainbow flag.

3. This article from NPR provides more information about the Compton's Cafeteria Riots.

4. This article from Transgriot provides a history of the Trans Pride flag.

5. Read When You Look Out the Window and find out!

6. This short article from PBS's "Out of the Past" series talks about the Mattachine Society.

7. The film "The Great Pink Scare" shares the history of LGBT persecution in the 1950s.

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