The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Board of Directors will vote soon on whether to adopt this Position Statement on LGBT+ History. (We'll keep you apprised!)
Contextualizing LGBT+ History within the Social Studies Curriculum
Americans are presently situated within a political, cultural, and social context where collective values and legal rights are being challenged by those who hold power and privilege. While this is not unique to 2019, it is a time in which we, as a society, must recognize the critical importance of historical accuracy and building the skills necessary to discern facts about who we are collectively and as individuals. This is especially true for LGBT+ individuals whose rights and histories continue to be contested in the court of public opinion and the law. A more complete and intentional social studies curriculum is one method through which educators, as change-agents, can contribute to this collective need.
Historically, exclusions and misrepresentations have perpetuated a deficit-based narrative of marginalized cultural groups and have presented a subjective and singular interpretation of the story of America told through the lens of those who created - and continue to benefit from - American cultural institutions: white, financially secure, Christian, heterosexual, [cisgender] males (Lorde, 1984). Social studies curriculum reifies this narrative through the marginalization of specific cultural groups and through the paradigm of victimization, as evidenced by framing India’s history only through British Colonialism, Indigenous Peoples only through European colonialism, Jews only through the Holocaust, African Americans only through slavery or LGBT+ people only through Stonewall. Putting collective experiences at the margins of the historical narrative disempowers cultural groups.
It is critical to correct an incomplete historical narrative to consider how those who have been marginalized in society influenced changes to the systems which were built to subjugate or oppress them. And this includes the system of curriculum.
This position statement is aimed at informing all who hold a stake in the PK-12 communities and institutions of higher education regarding the ethical, moral, and civic imperative to contextualize LGBT+ history within the social studies curriculum. Educators, administrators, and policy makers all play a significant role in reconciling historic discrimination and ensuring rising generations are well-equipped to advance the ideals of “liberty and justice for all” by participating in a democratic system with a more accurate understanding of “We, the people.”
June 28th of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots, a key turning point for the burgeoning gay liberation movement. This year also marks the third anniversary of Stonewall’s designation as a national monument. The Justification of Significance of Stonewall in its National Historic Landmark Nomination states, “Although Stonewall occurred less than fifty years ago, the site meets the criteria for exceptional significance because its importance was widely recognized by scholars and citizens almost immediately, because it has been the subject of extensive scholarly research and interpretation, because it represents an outstanding and clearly defined episode in the history of civil rights in America, because its significance is recognized internationally, and because it has had a demonstrable effect on the lives of millions of Americans, as well as on American society in general… “Stonewall” has become an empowering symbol of global proportions.”
While Stonewall is the most widely known LGBT+ historical event, it was not the first.
People who we label and understand today as LGBT+ have always existed, and what we reference today as LGBT+ history within United States history curriculum includes the earliest days of our country’s founding, as evidenced by primary source materials from the Library of Congress, National Archives, Smithsonian Museum of American History, National Park Service, and libraries, archives, and historical societies from across the nation.
Example Digital Primary Sources from:
Federal Bureau of Investigation (see page 38)
Contextualizing LGBT+ history - and anchoring its presentation with primary source materials - allows all students to engage in an inquiry-based, non-judgemental critical analysis of historical context and the opportunity to witness the following:
Cultural groups who have fought for extensions of liberty are bound within the framework of seeking equal access and opportunity in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, civic participation, and citizenship
The advancement of time does not always advance “liberty and justice for all,” underscoring the responsibility of each generation to secure:
well-informed civic participation to advance constitutional tenets and ensure institutional systems adhere to the principles and ideals of American democracy
the social studies as a critical core discipline
Relevance and Rationale
Rising generations of students, teachers, and staff are surrounded by LGBT+ topics in the media, pop culture, politics, and current legislation. The time is now to implement a more accurate social studies curriculum that includes the historical path and progression of these topics, contextualized within their intersections with concurrent events, to allow for evidence-based, academic discourse about LGBT+ inclusive topics and help students make connections to the information that surrounds them in today’s world.
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) recognizes the need to support more inclusive, intentional, and historically accurate curriculum, as evidenced by Principle Two in the NCSS Code of Ethics for the Social Studies Profession (2016):
It is the ethical responsibility of social studies professionals to provide to every student the knowledge, skills, experiences, and attitudes necessary to function as an effective participant in a democratic system.
This ethical obligation, rooted in ideological tension, is the foundation for dialogue about LGBT+ history and its rightful place in the social studies curriculum. The shift in public attitudes about gay rights is the most dramatic ever recorded in American history (Rosenfeld, 2017). As American society is in the process of reconciling with historic discrimination, this Position Statement is a call-to-action to use LGBT+ inclusive social studies education as a contribution to this shift, as well as a call-to-action to present a more contextualized, equitable, and accurate historical narrative that is anchored in an inquiry-based, non-judgemental critical analysis of primary sources.
Rationale for a Call-to-Action
Mandated education policy that calls for the inclusion of LGBT+ history, although well-intentioned, is far removed from the realities of classroom practice and the inherent complexities of implementation - the what, where, and how - especially considering the fact that most educators have not had the opportunity to engage with LGBT+ history within their own academic experience. And, without high-quality professional development and instructional resources, it is possible, and indeed quite probable, that compliance efforts will result in inaccuracies and/or a trivializing of LGBT+ history within the lens of a presumed identity. Additionally, the presence of mandated policy also conveys the illusion that the efficacy of the policy has been implemented, resulting in little to no curricular advancements.
A call-to-action is necessary to provide a framework for the first actionable steps to antecede the aforementioned problems and support states’ efforts to advance their curriculum frameworks.
This Position Statement on contextualizing LGBT+ history within the social studies curriculum recommends an actionable response to two critical questions, and framed within both short-term and long-term approaches:
What is my role, as an individual, in advancing the social studies towards a more complete, contextualized - and thereby more accurate and empowering - curriculum?
How can we, as caretakers of the social studies, create a sustainable model for a more complete, contextualized - and thereby more accurate and empowering - curriculum?
Evolving the social studies curriculum is replete with challenges, as the current curriculum system is a combination of beliefs, values, and biases that are applied to instructional materials and may be interpreted as either a liberal or conservative agenda.
This Position Statement asserts that contextualizing LGBT+ history within the story of America through an inquiry-based, non-judgemental critical analysis of primary sources is a reflection of what unifies caretakers of the social studies, irrespective of political affiliations or political ideologies: the inexorable call of professional accountability to advance the ideals of American democracy through the process of social studies education.
NCSS fully recognizes and supports the civic, ethical, and moral imperatives to advance more historically accurate, complete, and empowering social studies curriculum that contextualizes LGBT+ history - and other historically marginalized cultural groups. The social, cultural, and political implications for evading, omitting, and misrepresenting a cultural group have caused harm, which - at its core - goes against a true democratic education rooted in our only collective code of ethics to Do No Harm.
This Position Statement was co-authored by:
Debra Fowler, History UnErased, Inc., Co-founder & Executive Director
Dr. Steven LaBounty-McNair, History UnErased, Inc., Executive Board Chair
Warren Blumenfeld, B.A., M.Ed., Ed.D., Amherst, MA
Lillian Faderman, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., La Jolla, CA
Byron Holz, B.S. and M.E.-PD, La Crosse, WI
Eric Marcus, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., New York, NY
Miriam Morgenstern, B.A., M.S. TEFL, Westford, MA
Janson Wu, B.A., J.D., Cambridge, MA
- Blumenfeld, W. J. (2019).The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education. New York: Peter Lang.
Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: essays and speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Pr.
(n.d.). Stonewall National Historic Landmark Nomination. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/exhibitions/sw25/gifs/stonewall_national_historic_landmark_nomination.pdf.
Mashon, M. (2014, June 5). Lilli Vincenz and the Power of Pride. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2014/06/lilli-vincenz/.
Adkins, J. (Summer 2016, Vol. 48, No. 2). "These People Are Frightened to Death". Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2016/summer/lavender.html.
(n.d.). LGBTQ Collections Search Results. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search?edan_q=lgbtq+&edan_fq=type:edanmdm+OR+type:objectgroup.
(2019, May 16). Dawn Langley Simmons (U.S. National Park Service). Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.nps.gov/people/dawnlangleysimmons.htm.
(2011, July 7). Bayard Rustin Part 01 of 07. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://vault.fbi.gov/bayard-rustin/bayard-rustin-part-01-of-07/view.
(n.d.). Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996). Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/517/620/.
(2016, August 3). Revised Code of Ethics for the Social Studies Profession. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.socialstudies.org/position/ethics.
Rosenfeld, M. J. (2017). Moving a Mountain: The Extraordinary Trajectory of Same-Sex Marriage Approval in the United States. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 3, 237802311772765. doi: 10.1177/2378023117727658. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319866759_Moving_a_Mountain_The_Extraordinary_Trajectory_of_Same-Sex_Marriage_Approval_in_the_United_States