This June, we are proud to continue our focus on Upstanders with a special series on California LGBTQ Upstanders, co-hosted by ONE Archives Foundation and in collaboration with the podcast, Making Gay History. Each week, we will explore the content, themes, and questions raised in one past episode of the podcast. We invite you to subscribe to this blog so you get the updates each week, listen along with us, and share your thoughts by commenting on this blog. Our host and guide for this series is James Waller, a long-time educator in South Los Angeles, a board member of ONE Archives Foundation, and a Facing History friend. Here is his introduction to this series.
A little personal perspective
Most of my K-12 education was in various LAUSD schools around Mid-City and the Valley. I paid attention in school and did pretty well for the most part, but I was not inspired by what I was learning. I did not see much of myself in any of the things that I studied in the curriculum of the time. Although I was a huge fan of my history lessons in elementary school and of the stories told in my Sunday school class at church, it was not until my World History class in 10th grade, roughly three years later, that I began to even see Black people as being written about as anything other than a savage, a slave, a sharecropper or a shoplifter. This might not have been the case 100 percent of the time, but it was enough to paint a a pitiable picture in my head that did not give me much hope about life in America for a young Black man.
My teacher challenged some of my narrow-minded and ill-informed assumptions. I learned a lot that year about history and how much I did not know about it, nor myself. I was at a private school in Oregon then. When I moved back to LA for Junior year, I was in a regular 11th grade US History class. I did well. I read the textbook - back to Crispus Attucks, slavery, Lincoln, King and ghettos. I got an A and was uninspired. The stories did not move me, neither did they seem to involve me. My chant for the year was: "Why are we reading about all of this old shit!"
An American History professor at LA Trade Technical College (go LA Community College District!) is responsible for reigniting my interest in history. Just like my 10th grade teacher, he showed me that there were other stories in history and that my story and the story of my people was included in that greater, at times, untold history. His class started me on the path to a program that earned me both my teaching credential and a degree in Social Sciences, and it helped me decide that I wanted to help kids see the awesomeness of history by seeing how we all are included in it.
So what has changed?
In a recent survey of 300+ school districts across CA (⅔ thirds did not respond) the following was found:
"A majority of school districts in the survey do not appear to be including LGBTQ-inclusive textbooks in their social studies curriculum, which goes against a 2011 law mandating that schools include “the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” in their history teachings"
The law is clear: the 2011 FAIR Education Act - Senate Bill 48 - states that K-12 social science classes should include:
"..a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.” (Click here for more on this law.)
With this bill, it is possible for students in California public schools to be able to see representations of themselves and all of the amazing others in their social studies classes and lessons throughout all of their K-12 education! I can only fantasize on what it might have been like for me to have learned about Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man and organizer of King's March on Washington in 1968, in my 5th grade history class (I was well into adulthood when I first heard about him and his contributions to American history), however, I know the feeling and change that occurred for me the first time I heard historical accounts that moved me and affirmed me as a Black/African American, and I have recently witnessed LGBTQ students, freed by the FAIR Education Act, eyes open wide and their interest piqued when they learn about the history of the movement of "their"/our people. It is magic. It is our job and imperative as educators to ensure that all of our students have a chance to feel that same type of magic.
I am not an expert on LGBTQ history, in fact, I would consider myself a highly interested novice, and over the next couple of weeks, I am going to explore some perhaps lesser known LGBTQ history that occurred close to home, here in LA, over the past 50+ years. It would be great if you joined me on this adventure. From what I have been able to glean so far from my research, we will be introduced to some incredible people who we in turn we will want to introduce to more people so that their stories and contributions can continue to echo on into the future.
This historical journey would not be possible without Eric Marcus and his team from the Making Gay History Podcast, the ONE Archives Foundation and Facing History and Ourselves, all of whom have been key in my continued, deepening learning of and appreciation for the stories of the LGBTQ and underrepresented communities.