We Can Teach Black and LGBTQ History at the Same Time. In Fact, We Should.

My social media feeds were drenched with homophobia this week. People were saying how they really felt about my state, Illinois, joining other states mandating the teaching of LGBTQ history in schools. 

And ignorance about the required teaching of African American history in schools made me feel like I was drowning in idiocy and hypocrisy.

Hateful and disgusting questions infuriated me—like Fred Williams’ question on Twitter. In his tweet below, he says that teaching about LGBTQ history in schools is akin to teaching “perversion.”

And Fred wasn’t the only Black man I saw who mentioned perversion or linked LGBTQ people to pedophilia. In fact, a lot of the most negative commentary came from the Black people in my feeds—and I couldn’t be more disappointed. 

I went back and forth with people about policy, advocacy, accountability and representation. 

I answered ridiculous questions and addressed some issues, but I found two particular questions a bit more vexing than the rest.

Why haven’t they mandated the teaching of African American history in schools? 

What if I told you there’s been a mandate on the Illinois books since 1991 and the Amistad Commission was created to ensure its thorough and quality delivery to our students? All it took was a little research for me to find that out.

Now, I agree that our schools have done a subpar job of teaching African American history because, throughout my K-12 career, all I mostly learned was Martin had a dream, Rosa took a seat and Harriet freed some slaves. And I’m not the only Chicagoan with these concerns.

But considering the fact that our free public education system has been allowed to give kids—especially Black kids—the bare minimum, whose job is it to hold the government and school districts accountable for giving them a good education? Ours.

Have we collectively and effectively done our jobs? No. Because if we had, if we were doing our jobs right now, more than a mere 18% of our Black eighth graders would be proficient in reading.

Get mad if you want to but we share in this failure, too. And I’m calling everybody out in 2019.

Why do my kids have to learn about gay people?

The hypocrisy is appalling. 

Any Black person who tries to suppress the history of other marginalized groups—because we know what that oppression feels like—should be ashamed. And if we heard a White person ask, “Why does my child need to learn about Black history?” we’d probably get mad as hell.

We’ve fought for our history to be truthfully and fully told in America and taught to our kids in schools—why wouldn’t other communities deserve that same right?

And I hate to break it to y’all but our history is intertwined with LGBTQ history. There are and have always been gay Black people at the forefront of all of the liberation movements. It’s called intersectionality

We can’t champion our Black leaders in one breath, but advocate for the erasure of their identity in another by insisting that their full stories and struggles not be told in schools. It’s a dishonor to the memory, contributions, trials and triumphs of people like James BaldwinAngela DavisBayard RustinBarbara Jordan and so many others

It’s also a disservice to our LGBTQ students who need to learn about LGBTQ leaders, see themselves in role models and know that they can one day be just like them.

And above all, keeping our kids from learning about LGBTQ people and issues feeds the beast that has claimed the lives of so many students tortured by bullies who didn’t understand them or by the internal anguish of not having spaces and outlets to understand themselves.

THE SITUATIONAL AND TEMPORARY OUTRAGE IS EXASPERATING 

At the end of the day, the inclusion of LGBTQ history is the least of our concerns.

Whether your child is gay or straight, chances are that if they’re Black and poor, they’re barely being taught general studies. Because a new study recently reported that 40% of White principals feel ill-prepared to support poor students and students of color.

So be outraged about that and other inequities all year round rather than temporarily trippin’ on new curriculum, or only highlighting the inadequacies of African American history in schools during Black History Month. 

This on and off outrage that’s leaving our kids in the throes of a failing system is really getting old, y’all. We have to do better.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Education Post.

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Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is the Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post. She was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, is a Chicago Public Schools alumna and proud Englewoodian. She blogs elsewhere about Hope and Outrage. As an undergraduate student at Northern Illinois University, Tanesha began to develop a passion for and understand the importance of public service. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, she returned to Chicago with a new perspective on community, politics and civic engagement. Tanesha then attended and graduated from DePaul University with a master’s degree in public service management and urban planning and development. Throughout her professional career, Tanesha has used her education, passion and experience to navigate a number of nonprofit, political and independent ventures, advancing her mission to educate and empower marginalized populations. Prior to joining Education Post, she also managed her own consulting firm specializing in community relations. Tanesha’s vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or zip code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. Find her on Twitter at @PeeplesChoice85.

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