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LGBTQ Advocates Celebrate Inclusive Curriculum Law Enacted in Washington

“This will instill so much hope in the lives of kids,” LGBTQ legislative researcher Allison Chapman said.

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020, in Seattle, Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) signed a law on March 18 requiring Washington’s school districts to develop curricula promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. The legislation, SB 5462, emphasizes incorporating the histories of marginalized and underrepresented groups into the school curriculum, including LGBTQ communities, individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, various racial and ethnic groups, and people with disabilities.

“Growing up, it was so rare to hear anything about the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community in any setting, let alone in the classroom,” State Senator Marko Liias (D), the bill’s sponsor, said after the legislation passed the Washington Senate in January. “The contributions of gay Washingtonians deserve recognition, and just as importantly, students deserve to see themselves in their schoolwork. That leads to better attendance, better academic achievement and better overall quality of life.”

Advocates are celebrating the enactment of SB 5462, which they say will aid LGBTQ youth in the state.

“LGBTQ+ kids in Washington are going to learn about people who are just like them and be given historical role models to look up to,” LGBTQ legislative researcher Allison Chapman told Truthout. “This will instill so much hope in the lives of kids who might feel like they are different and don’t fit in. This small amount of hope will allow LGBTQ+ students to thrive and push themselves to be incredible members of society.”

In fact, research does show that students’ sense of representation in the classroom is associated with improved academic performance. According to a 2018 study, primary and middle school students demonstrated higher reading comprehension scores when exposed to culturally relevant texts. Additionally, studies also show that LGBTQ students enrolled in schools with inclusive curricula report feeling safer and experience less discrimination and harassment.

“When people feel a connection to what they’re learning, they do better,” Liias said. “That’s really the spirit of the bill.”

With the signing of the law, Washington joins the ranks of California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon and becomes the seventh state to implement a law establishing standards for inclusive curriculum throughout its public school system.

“By signing SB 5462 into law, Governor Jay Inslee has demonstrated a commitment to fostering inclusive and equitable learning environments for all students in Washington state,” Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement. “With seven states now embracing these standards, there is a growing momentum towards classroom instruction that accurately reflects the history and diversity of America.”

According to GLSEN, an inclusive LGBTQ curriculum offers advantages to all students, irrespective of their identity, by teaching students about diverse perspectives and histories.

“For LGBTQ students, attending a school with an inclusive curriculum is related to less-hostile school experiences and increased feelings of connectedness to the school community. Inclusive curriculum benefits all students by promoting diversity and teaching them about the myriad of identities in their communities,” GLSEN’s resource guide says.

However, only 13.8 percent of the 12,615 LGBTQ students reported that their history classes had ever covered LGBTQ history in any form, according to a 2022 survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the University of Connecticut.

Moreover, according to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), seven states explicitly prohibit discussions regarding LGBTQ individuals or topics across all school curriculum. Additionally, five states mandate prior parental notification of any LGBTQ-related curricula and allow parents to opt their children out (or necessitate an opt-in) and four states impose restrictions on how schools can address “homosexuality” within specific curricula, such as sex education.

According to a 2023 poll conducted by the Trevor Project, LGBTQ books bans and “Don’t Say Gay” laws have a detrimental effect on the mental health of LGBTQ youth. 71 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said they experienced these harmful impacts from new policies prohibiting teachers from addressing LGBTQ topics in the classroom, as did 80 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth due to policies aiming to remove books discussing LGBTQ topics from school libraries. Additionally, 86 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported that discussions surrounding anti-transgender bill adversely affected their mental health.

“A robust, inclusive education system is the bedrock of a flourishing democracy, yet it is currently under attack,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “From limiting lessons on Black history to banning books with LGBTQ+ characters, it’s no surprise that LGBTQ+, Black and other marginalized students throughout the country are feeling less safe at school.”

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