LGBT courses will be added to Illinois public schools’ curriculum if lawmakers approve pending bill

LGBT courses will be added to Illinois public schools’ curriculum if lawmakers approve pending bill
Activists want Illinois state lawmakers to require public schools to teach courses in LGBT history. The issue is likely to be discussed at the state capitol, pictured here, in the coming weeks. (MarkSkube/Getty Images)

Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would force public schools to add a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender section to history courses, the Chicago Tribune reported. Schools would also be required to use textbooks that portray the LGBT community as being part of a diverse society.

Gay and transgender rights advocates are pushing for the measure. But opponents believe such decisions should be made at the local level and not through the state government, according to the report.

Supporters argue that the state has similar requirements for teaching the history of blacks and other groups. And it would provide a platform for stories about members of the LGBT community that often go untold, advocates say.

“There is no justice for LGBTQ people when we are erased from the study of history,” Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, a gay and transgender rights advocacy organization, told the Chicago Tribune.

What have opponents said?

But this is different, opponents said, because it goes against the religious beliefs of other students.

Adding LGBT beliefs to public school curriculums would force some students to hear about personal values counter to what they believe, said Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist with the conservative Illinois Family Institute.

“Where’s the protection for students and parents who have a religious belief?” Rivera told the Chicago Tribune. “Which has always been the case, this is not a new, avant-garde thing that they find this behavior to be against their religious beliefs and their churches’ or synagogues’ beliefs. No one seems to be mindful of that. They don’t care.”

The Illinois Association of School Boards is also leery of the proposal. The board typically opposes most state requirements for schools because they believe districts, not lawmakers, should make such decisions, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Johnson disagrees. Excluding LGBT issues from education means that like-minded students are “deprived of the role models we deserve,” he told the Chicago Tribune. He added that all children should have a “full understanding” of some of the historic figures they learn about in school.

“You know, the fact that you would learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and learn about Coretta (Scott King), but not learn about Bayard Rustin and his partners, it’s just a sign that we’re giving kids a lopsided view of history,” Johnson explained.

Rustin, a civil rights leader, was a chief of the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In any event, the plan won preliminary approval from House and Senate committees, the report states. It is expected to be debated more in the coming weeks.

What is Illinois history regarding LGBT issues?

Illinois has a history of supporting LGBT issues. For example:

  • The state approved same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it nationwide.
  • Last year, lawmakers approved a measure to allow transgenders in the state to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.
  • A new law plans the “gay panic defense,” which allowed criminals charged with first degree murder to maintain they “acted out of passion after learning their victim was gay or transgender.”

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