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New Illinois Law Requires LGBT History To Be Taught In Schools

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune via AP,

Illinois Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law legislation that requires all state-recognized public  schools to include in their curriculum the study of historic contributions that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community have made for the state and the country. 

The law mandates that "Each public school district and state-recognized, non-public school shall, subject to appropriations for that purpose, receive a per pupil grant for the purchase of secular and non-discriminatory textbooks." The state's Board of Education will publish an annual list of "approved textbooks."  

One of the main supporters of the bill, State Sen. Heather Steans (D), said the reason for the bill is because "one of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints." 

"An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community," Steans added. 

"It is my hope that teaching students about the valuable contributions LGBTQ individuals have made throughout history will create a safer environment with fewer incidents of harassment," she continued. "LGBTQ children and teenagers will also be able to gain new role models who share life experiences with them." 

While the LGBT curriculum is limited only to public schools, the bill also mandates that private and Catholic schools expand their history lessons to include "a study of the role of labor unions and their interaction with government in achieving the goals of a mixed free enterprise system." It also requires the teaching of contributions from numerous ethnic and immigrant groups. 

The purpose of the bill is so that the teaching of history shall have as one of its objectives the imparting to pupils of a comprehensive idea of our democratic form of  government and the principles for which our government stands as regards other nations, including the studying of the place of our government in world-wide movements and the leaders thereof, with particular stress upon the basic principles and ideals of our representative form of government."

Illinois joins states such as California and Colorado which mandate similar teachings in public schools. As for what this would look like, Reuters recently published a brief description of potential textbooks:

A picture book for second graders about a family with two moms. A lesson for fourth graders about Gold Rush era stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, who was born a woman but lived as a man.

These are just some of the ways U.S. public school students will learn about LGBTQ - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer - history in a growing number of states moving to mandate inclusive K-12 curriculum. It is the latest chapter in a decades-long push to teach students about the trials and contributions of marginalized communities - from suffragettes to black Americans - whose stories have often been absent from classrooms.

But, some parents have already voiced concerns about their children as young as kindergarten and first grade learning about transgender individuals and non-traditional families. 

"I should be the first one to educate about those things," one mom told Reuters at the time.

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