Inclusion or indoctrination? How opposing sides view teaching LGBTQ history in schools

State law does not specify at what grade level LGBTQ history is to be taught.

Critics view talking about LGBTQ personalities in earlier grades as akin to "indoctrination." Those arguing for inclusion say there is a need for positive role models for LGBTQ youths, who often are bullied, harassed, ostracized and feeling isolated in school.

A few conservative organizations have opposed the legislation, saying it promotes normalizing gay lifestyle.

"The foundational issue is the leftist presuppositions about the nature and morality of homosexual activity," said Laurie Higgins, cultural issues writer for the Illinois Family Institute. "The left relies on the assumption that homosexuality and opposite-sex identification are analogous to race, which is absurd. This is when education is transformed into indoctrination."

Higgins said the law is problematic because it doesn't specify when LGBTQ history can be taught. The group vehemently opposes teaching such material in elementary schools.

"If kids can't understand the foundational assumptions, it is age-inappropriate," she said. "It would be acceptable, if the teachers agreed to spend equal time on having students study the best resources on both sides of the (LGBTQ) debate in high school."

The Illinois State Board of Education has not issued any guidance on the law and each public school and district will choose how to implement it, spokesman Max Weiss said.

For example, at Elgin Area School District U-46, the material will be included in the high school U.S. history course typically taught to sophomores and juniors, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

"The curriculum leadership team reviews (state) mandates and includes such mandates in the areas that make sense," Fergus said. "The requirements related to the impact of LGTBQ will be embedded in the updated civil rights units."

School districts will have the flexibility of how and when to introduce this material to students, said state Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat who was the legislation's lead sponsor.

"I think we do children a disservice when we don't give them enough credit," Moeller said of limiting LGBTQ education to higher grades. "It's about who people love and how they identify. This has the potential to change the way society views the LGBT community. Who we decide to talk about and who we include in history reflects the values we have in our society. If you deny someone their history, you are denying their humanity."

Some advocates call for talking about LGBTQ issues as early as middle school, where bullying of students from that community is rampant.

LGBTQ people often are treated as "unicorns," as if they weren't real, said Lee Daluge, 17, a Round Lake High School senior who identifies as a gay transgender male.

Daluge joined the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance support group last year to cope with the harassment he encountered at school in earlier grades, including being told to "kill myself."

"It was very dehumanizing and felt (like) I wasn't being deemed as a person," he said.

At group meetings, incoming freshmen would share horror stories about not being included and being bullied by students and teachers in middle school, Daluge said.

Statewide, 72% of LGBTQ youths in Illinois schools report verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation, 25% report physical harassment, and 12% report physical assault, according to a 2017 National School Climate Survey by GLSEN, a network of educators aiming to end discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Daluge said he looks up to trailblazing gay politician Harvey Milk and gay rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson as role models. He is hopeful learning about such figures will create tolerance.

"It's really important for everyone in the community, because for so long we've been seen as a burden in society," Daluge said. "We've made so many contributions that no one knows about. It can also create being appreciated and understanding that these people are real and they are not here to take anything from society, but they are actually giving back."

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