“We are conspicuous in our absence” says the democratic openly gay Senator Mark Leno. This statement is honest, but not the full story. The fight to get gay history integrated into the curriculum of schools in California is heating up. The importance of gay history has come up before in my life as I wrote about my childhood experiences going to a school that did not once mention what gay was (besides it being used as a synonym for something negative):
Is a half-truth a whole lie? When looking back over my 6 years elementary school, 3 years of middle school, and 4 years of high school, I realized that not once did my classes teach me about any gay or lesbian figure in history. As a matter of a fact, if it is public education’s job to teach about the realities of the world, they definitely failed on letting me know that there were gay people who existed in history that did great things. I’m not sure if I can call this homophobia, a better defining term for it is homo-nonexistence. You can’t be afraid of something that doesn’t exist. This is what I am labeling the great injustice of my childhood. This non-existence of gay people in my history books [while growing up] is another reason to why I was so insecure about my sexuality in middle school and much of high school. I remember being in 8th grade and thinking “what was wrong with me” or that I was the only gay person alive. I thought I was going to hell for the desires that I kept concealed in the innermost crevices of my mind.
The first time in my life that I can remember recognizing that another gay person existed was when I was in the 6th grade. I was sitting on my living room floor of our 3-bedroom apartment and my step-mom was flipping through the television stations. She stopped at one station to see a clip of Elton John singing “It’s me that you need”—don’t ask me why I remember the name of the song. She quickly yelled “queer!” at the TV, and continued turning the stations. I turned to look at her for an explanation; she leaned in and sternly told me, “We don’t watch queers in this house.” At 12 years old I didn’t even know the definition of queer, but somehow I understood that she meant Elton John was gay.
I am fortunate. I am fortunate that I found a solid group of friends that I eventually could come out to and be accepted by. I am fortunate that even in the mist of homophobia I learned to accept who I was. I am fortunate that I was able to read and study history for myself and find that there are numerous amounts of out and proud LGBT people in history who deserve to be taught about in schools. James Baldwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare and many others. I heard all of these names in school but was never told the whole truth about their lives.
Things will get better??? Yes.
The legislation to require LGBTQ history to be taught in schools is now under deliberation between California lawmakers. The Bill would add LGBTQ history to social studies classes, the same class that left out any type of gay history that I could have received in my own schooling. This Bill would also require this new curriculum to be taught and adopted by the local school boards by the 2013-14 school year. To make a good thing even better, the law would also make it illegal to teach anything to “reflect adversely” on the LGBTQ community or on any particular religion.
Hopefully this homo-nonexistence will end, not only in California but across the country (and world). This is a huge step for queer politics; I encourage you to join this movement to ensure that progress continues to be made.