By Greg Hernandez
A dozen teachers from the L.A. Unified School District spent a week of their summer at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives researching LGBT history to incorporate into future lesson plans.
The educators explored the archives—the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world—as part of the LGBTQ History: OUT Curriculum Cohort, held in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, ONE Archives Foundation, and UCLA Center X, which seeks to create a more just, equitable, and humane society through transforming public schooling.
LGBT historical events researched by the teachers included the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, Black Cat raid in Los Angeles, and founding of the Mattachine Society. The teachers are now busy developing lesson plans that will be available online to other teachers this fall.
“It was exciting and humbling and left me feeling connected to something much larger,” said Hala Billsi, a humanities teacher at Cleveland High School. “I loved seeing all of the archives in person. It makes me emotional thinking about it. As a member of the LGBT community, it was especially poignant for me to see historical documents and records of all the stories and all the events that people who have come before us have gone through.”
The goal of the cohort is to incorporate the stories of traditionally marginalized Americans, including LGBT people, in order to create more inclusive history courses in classrooms. This edict stems from the passage of California’s FAIR Education Act in 2011 that requires the inclusion of the political, economic, and social contributions of LGBT people, people with disabilities, and people of diverse ethnic and cultural groups.
Passing the FAIR Education Act, with the support of the Center, was considered a major triumph. But it was only the beginning as implementation remains a daunting challenge due to the time required to update textbooks.
“We heard a lot of teachers didn’t have a lot of source material to use in the classroom,” said Krystal Torres-Covarrubias, the Center’s education policy manager and facilitator of the cohort. “They said they’d like to implement the FAIR Act, but textbooks hadn’t been approved.” The Center partnered with ONE Archives and UCLA Center X last year for a two-day symposium. It grew into the one-week cohort this year that also included presentations by LGBT historians about each decade of the LGBT movement.
Teachers in the cohort committed to creating one lesson based on an event that was included in the OUT For Safe Schools LGBT History Calendar produced by the Center for the LAUSD. The calendar includes Coming Out Day; the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Transgender Day of Remembrance; the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004; Harvey Milk Day; the 1969 Stonewall Riots; World AIDS Day; and homosexuality being removed from the list of mental disorders in 1973.
“As a queer teacher of color, my lesson plan is about queer people of color at the forefront of the LGBT movement as a way to highlight their stories,” said cohort participant Andrew Gutierrez.
The lessons developed by teachers in the cohort will be edited by UCLA Center X, and then become available in October as part of the Center’s annual launch of OUT for Safe Schools, a program created to encourage school staff, including teachers and administrators, to publicly identify as supportive LGBT allies on campus.
Billsi’s lesson focuses on black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde signing a contract with The Crossing Press in 1982 to publish her landmark book Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. It is celebrated as a historic piece of literature that explores the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, poverty, and politics.
Gutierrez is focusing on the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, one of the first recorded LGBT-related riots in U.S. history. The 1967 uprising preceded the better-known Stonewall Riots by two years and was led by queer and trans people of color.
“I had known about Compton’s Cafeteria riot before, but the ONE Archives really helped in creating context with what else was happening around the world at that time that was influencing and impacting the LGBT movement,” Gutierrez said. “They bring history to life through photos and artifacts. This is our history. If we don’t write our own history and create our own lesson plans about the people we want to learn about, no one else will.”
Billsi said the cohort’s work is especially invaluable to the lone teacher who wants to implement these lessons but hasn’t had the resources or support up until now.
“There’s still a lack of information, lack of access, and stigma,” she said. “To have teachers who are invested actually go into the archives and dig through and bring it out for other teachers, students, and all educators to use is what is so important.”
In addition to California schools, the lesson plans will be available to all OUT for Safe Schools partners throughout the U.S., including Chicago Public Schools, Massachusetts State Department of Education, and District of Columbia Public Schools. “I hope this serves as a model for textbook companies to go to the archives themselves and include information from the archives,” Torres-Covarrubias said. “We are using resources from ONE Archives that most people don’t know about or don’t know how to tap into.”