A potentially historic bill is winding its way through the Illinois Statehouse that would require school textbooks to include “a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this state.”
Senate Bill 3249 recently passed out of committee and, if approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, would make Illinois the second state after California to require LGBTQ-inclusive history textbooks.
“There’s so much bullying in schools, there are escalating suicide attempts among the younger population,” said Tracy Baim, publisher of the of the Windy City Times. “So there are a whole lot of reasons to have this happen in Illinois.”
Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia discussed the focus and value of the pending legislation with Baim; Theresa Volpe, a Windy City Times reporter and a former editor for Pearson Education, a textbook publisher; and Victor Salvo, founder and director of The Legacy Project, the organization responsible for the “rainbow pylons” in Boystown that are dedicated to famous LGBTQ people.
Below are highlights from the conversation.
The value of historical representation
Victor Salvo: What really makes it resonate for the kids that we work with is not to know about the movement, honestly, with all due respect — we’re all in the movement, right? — they want to know about teachers. They want to know about scientists. They want to know about athletes and diplomats and people that they can actually identify in terms of career arc, because they’re trying to find their place in the world. And I think that is really where the power lies in this, because it gives kids hope and it lets them figure out a way where they can actually fit in society.
Because they go through their entire school life without hearing a single positive thing about somebody who is LGBTQ. So my focus will always be on integrating the stories we already have — Jane Addams being a perfect example — into existing history. And making sure that people are aware that we’ve always been here. We’re not just some contemporary aberration that just popped out of nowhere.
What non-LGBTQ students get out of it
Theresa Volpe: We all do better when we know about one another’s stories and where we come from. We have to understand our challenges, our triumphs, and in that way it’s a positive effect. Because all of us sitting in this room, we never saw an LGBT person talked about in our schools growing up. They’re reporters, they’re engineers, they’re scientists, they’re artists, and we were invisible. When you’re a child and you don’t see yourself reflected in the world around you, it’s just a negative effect. You feel like you don’t belong. You feel invisible.
Tony Sarabia: But beyond students who are LGBTQ, it could diminish or help to wipe away the stigmatization.
Volpe: Exactly. I think it turns around the negativity. We’re learning from one another. So if you don’t know an LGBT person or you know nothing about the history, it’s a way for you to develop understanding.
What the curriculum should look like
Tracy Baim: It’s critical to get this right. I’m not as aware of how California made this happen, but in Illinois we absolutely have to have everybody at the table as this is developed to make sure that it’s inclusive of all parts of the LGBTQ community. It’s critical, and in Chicago in particular, there are great legacies of people of color within the LGBT movement making great strides — people like Vernita Gray and Jackie Anderson and Marc Loveless and so many other people. People who are going to Lindblom High School, or going to school at lab, or Francis Parker, or wherever you’re going to school, it might be slightly different but it should be representative of all.
Volpe: I would like to say also, because we are at the beginning stages of developing curriculum for this type of content, we are at a level playing field. We are at a position where we can include everybody that has been traditionally left out. Right? The Latin community. Bi-sexuals. Trans folks. American Indians. Asian-Americans. The whole gamut. We don’t have to play catch up at this point because we’ve learned from African-American integration of curriculum and content in our publishing world. They weren’t included. And so we’ve learned that lesson. We can teach LGBT history without a narrow focus and we’ll be able to expand it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.