Recently, I read about how some school districts around the US were going to be teaching about LGBT history to students. This is, of course, a cause for celebration because it allows for LGBT students to learn about their community’s history in school. For one of the first times (at least in my experience), young people might be learning about the Stonewall Inn and Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and about people like Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P Johnson.
But at the same time, I know how history is usually taught in US schools. I know that while it’s not often the fault of teachers, students aren’t typically given a full and accurate understanding of history. Things are left out because of time or because it doesn’t fit the narrative; parts of history erased as the people living it are killed and/or silenced; the dominant narrative is often taught, regardless of its inaccuracies. How we learn about Christopher Columbus and the “discovery” of the Americas is a big example of this.
So while I celebrate the decision, I also wonder if these course on LGBT history will do the material and people justice. A part of this uneasiness also comes from the way in which LGBT history is general depicted in mainstream society. With the more well-known and well-funded LGBT organizations (i.e. the Human Rights Campaign) focusing on replicating the status quo but with a little rainbow, I worry that these history classes will be doing the same time instead of showing the radical tendencies of LGBT history. The most recent movie about the Stonewall Inn Riots , for example, is utterly whitewashed and devoid of a lot of the actual people who were there.
I write about all these concerns not because I don’t want people to learn about LGBT history or for these new additions to school’s curriculum to be scraped before they’re even taught. Rather, I write about all of this because I want the best possible version of these courses to succeed and for more like them to exist. I want LGBT history to be better known and for the most marginalized to be at the center of telling their own stories.