Despite the landmark Supreme Court decision in 2016 which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of LGBTQ+ discrimination are very much alive and well.
LGBTQ+ students face challenges in school that their peers do not, and are often the victims of verbal and physical harassment. The National School Climate survey found that fifty-five percent of LGBTQ+ students report feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, while thirty-eight percent report feeling unsafe due to their gender identity or expression.
Creating a safe school culture begins with affirming their history in the classroom, and this is why teaching LGBTQ+ history is so important. Not only does such education help these students feel represented, it helps challenge the anti-LGBTQ+ biases that other students may have, and helps them unlearn those biases.
Below are some resources, including lesson plans and educational materials, that might be useful to educators seeking to integrate LGBTQ+ history into their school curricula and create a positive classroom environment for their students.
Understanding the vocabulary surrounding LGBTQ+ identities is essential for teachers to present information accurately and ensure that these students feel safe and respected. While it’s important to gain input from LGBTQ+ students when they offer it, refrain from singling them out or relying on them for emotional labor in explaining their identities.
The following resources are a great place to start doing your own research on what the LGBTQ+ acronym means and how words such as “queer” are used by the community:
- The Acronym and Beyond: This resource from nonprofit organization Teaching Tolerance provides a glossary of terms used to describe LGBTQ+ sexual orientations and gender identities, along with clear explanations of context and usage.
- GLSEN Safe Space Kit: While not directly related to teaching history, it’s important that teachers make an effort to create a welcoming, supportive classroom environment for LGBTQ+ students. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) is an organization committed to ending discrimination and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This resource provides teachers with guidance on how to be a better ally. It includes the following strategies: how to determine and check any implicit anti-LGBTQ+ bias; how to respond to anti-LGBTQ+ behavior that may occur in the classroom; and specific actions teachers can take to show their support.
- Columbia Journalism Review: “How the World ‘Queer’ Was Adopted by the LGBTQ Community”: When reading and learning about LGBTQ+ literature and history, educators may come across the word, “queer,” historically a slur that has since been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ+ community. Understanding the history of the term and how it is used today is an important step in becoming familiar with the vernacular and vocabulary some LGBTQ+ students may choose to identify with.
- Teaching LGBTQ History: Our Family Coalition created this resource after the FAIR Education Act was passed in California, making it the first state to require LGBTQ+ as part of the school curriculum. It includes a wealth of lesson plans on LGBTQ+ moments in history, as well as lessons on LGBTQ+ identities and issues. While it was originally designed for California’s social studies curriculum, the lesson plans provide a starting point for implementation in your own classroom.
- LGBTQ+ Foundation Lesson Plans: ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. is the oldest active LGBTQ+ organization in the United States and is the independent community partner of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California libraries. The organization promotes their resources through educational initiatives, fundraising, and a range of public programs. Like the above resource, these free lesson plans are designed to comply with the FAIR Education Act. The ONE Archives Foundation also has a series of LGBTQ+ history webinars for K-12 teachers available on their website that can provide further guidance.
- Unheard Voices: Stories of LGBT History: These lesson plans from the Anti-Defamation League are useful for teaching the overarching themes throughout LGBTQ+ history, and include lessons appropriate for 6th grade and beyond. Some examples of issues covered are “The Invisibility of LGBT People in History” and “The Exclusion of LGBT People from Societal Institutions.”
- Teaching and Learning About Gay History and Issues: With a mostly American history focus, this guide from the New York Times’ The Learning Network was released after the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. It includes detailed lesson plans on topics such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the fight for same sex marriage equality. There are also links to other New York Times articles on related subject matter.
- Incorporating LGBTQIA+ Content in History Lessons: This useful guide from Edutopia offers a helpful list of best practices for teachers to follow when integrating LGBTQ+ content into their curriculums and ensuring that their students’ identities are respected.
- N.J. schools will finally teach about LGBTQ history. Here’s what kids would learn.: This article explains the objective of teaching LGBTQ+ history in schools and what students will be gaining from this experience. It also details the New Jersey law regarding the teaching of LGBTQ+ history and its significance, along with some suggested classroom content.
- Assembly Bill A1335 FACT SHEET: Put together by GLSEN New Jersey, this document informs readers of the purpose, background, and research on the state law requiring that LGBTQ+ content be included in classroom instruction. It also provides information on other relevant laws and the benefits of more inclusive curriculums.
- How will LGBT history be taught in New Jersey schools after new law?: This article explains the requirements of New Jersey’s new law and what it means for school boards. It includes other instances in LGBTQ+ history, such as when and how California implemented a similar law in 2012.
- Pushing back on requirement that LGBT history be taught in schools | Video: This article explains the viewpoints of some individuals who are against the law requiring that LGBT history be taught in schools. It also provides some counterarguments that are in favor of the law and explains the benefits that it could have on the school environment.
- A Queer History of the United States (Michael Bronski, 2011): Bronski’s book demonstrates how LGBTQ+ history is fundamentally intertwined with American history and challenges their exclusion from the prevailing historical narrative. Using primary source documents, literature, and cultural histories, he provides a broad narrative of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history spanning from 1492 to the 1990s.
- Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women (Leila J. Rupp, 2009): Focusing specifically on lesbian history, Rupp’s book provides a thorough look at how these women have shaped the course of world history throughout time, from Ancient Greece to the Parisian aristocracy and more. The global focus of this source could even be integrated into a World History course or other subject of that nature.
- We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation (Leighton Brown and Matthew Riemer, 2019): Sourced from over twenty archives and seventy photographers, this book serves as a historical photographic compilation of the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, a narrative that begins in late nineteenth-century Europe, well before the 1969 Stonewall riots. This collection provides great primary sources that educators can include with classroom materials, providing a deeper insight into what LGBTQ+ culture looked like throughout history.
- People With a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History: Edited by Dr. Paul Halsall, this history sourcebook from Fordham University is an excellent collection of primary source texts detailing the experiences of LGBTQ+ people throughout history. It includes documents from almost every historical period covered in typical World History curricula, from the Middle Ages to Ancient China, and can provide additional content for your already-existing units as well as primary source documents for class activities.
- GLBTQ Encyclopedia Project: Founded in 2000 by publisher Wik Wikholm, the GLBTQ Encyclopedia Project sought to create the world’s largest encyclopedia of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer history online. With over 350 contributors, it contains a trove of articles on LGBTQ+ history and social science scholarship, which can be used as teaching materials and ideas for topics that can be integrated into any world history curriculum.
The history of LGBTQ+ people around the world can’t be condensed into a single unit, as is the case with history in general. It is important to note that LGBTQ+ people have existed throughout all of history, despite social stigma leading to their erasure and persecution.
It is key to normalize LGBTQ+ history by integrating it into the world history curriculum, adding lessons on their contributions to cultures and societies in every historical era. This is the standard supported by the National Council for Social Studies, which urged teachers to “contextualize LGBTQ+ history within the story of America” in their Position Statement on LGBTQ+ history.
LGBTQ+ history is world history, though many historians omitted their stories and contributions before such scholarship was socially acceptable. The objective of any educator should be to teach this history in a way that challenges the heteronormative lens too often applied to world history, create an accepting environment for LGBTQ+ students, and push other students to unlearn their heteronormative biases.
- Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students: Teaching Tolerance is a nonprofit dedicated to providing free resources to teachers and schools, empowering them on how to educate youth as active participants in a diverse democracy. This appendix accompanies their guide on “Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students,” and includes a list of LGBTQ+ figures across world history (Appendix B), that can be integrated into a variety of history units. It also includes a detailed glossary of LGBTQ+ terms (Appendix C), which can help teachers navigate the many gender identities and sexual orientations within the LGBTQ+ community.
- Making Gay History Podcast: Eric Marcus’s podcast includes audio interviews with key figures in LGBTQ+ history, highlighting stories that have often been forgotten or omitted from the mainstream historical narrative. Each episode is about 20 minutes in length and can be easily integrated into a history lesson, and also outline important historical events from the perspectives of LGBTQ+ people.
- Incorporating LGBTQ History In Your Classroom: In this podcast episode (transcript available), historian Daniel Hurewitz, a professor at CUNY Hunter College in New York City, offers strategies for incorporating LGBTQ history into the social studies classroom. While the focus is on American history-focused lesson plans, he includes valuable lessons from teachers who are already incorporating queer history into their curricula, providing possible strategies for integration.
- LGBTQ History in Public Schools: This next podcast episode of Queer America, features interviews with Emily Hobson, a professor at the University of Nevada, and Felicia Perez, a public school teacher. Both educators offer practical advice for integrating LGBTQ+ history into social studies curricula in a public school context.