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History

Tue, Oct 06, 2020

Oscar Paz

Oscar Paz - Education Coordinator

The History of LGBTQ History Month

Discover the roots of LGBTQ History Month. Then, see what Santa Cruz County educators and community-builders are doing to ensure LGBTQ history is included and well represented across Santa Cruz County schools. Plus, more opportunities to connect at upcoming events.

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Imagine a typical history class in the mid-90s. Today’s lesson, the teacher explains as students begin to take their seats, is on the Holocaust. The teacher, with a serious tone, adds that if he had lived in Germany during World War II, he probably would have been imprisoned or murdered for being gay. The classroom, now with eyes to the front, is silent. If students weren’t listing, they are now because their teacher just came out.

Believe it or not, this is the true story of Rodney Wilson. Born in Missouri, he became the first openly gay K-12 teacher in the state. What might have been just another history lesson instead turned into Wilson starting his mission to teaching gay history. To help him pave the way for a robust understanding of LGBTQ history, Rodney gathered other teachers and community leaders to join him. Then, in 1994 the group selected October to observe lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history because public schools would be in session and National Coming Out Day is on the 11th.

Taboo Teaching

“The greatest act of advocacy for civil rights for LGBTQ Americans is the act of coming out.”

Rodney Wilson

While seeking endorsements in the early years, Wilson and partners encountered financial scarcity and backlash. Conservatives feared the negative outcomes of teaching gay history stalling and made securing financial sponsors a challenge. Nonetheless, their efforts continued into the late ‘90s.

In 2006, the international and national LGBT civil rights organization, Equality Forum, launched LGBT History Month. Since then, LGBTQ History Month has seen a tremendous amount of support. Today, it is endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, by GLAAD, the National Education Association, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and many other national organizations. There is also support from local organizations like Our Family Coalition, ONE Archives Foundation, Santa Cruz County Diversity Center, and the Safe Schools Project.

Local Spotlight

Read interviews with Alicia Guzman, an ally and local educator, and Rob Darrow, a local community builder and LGBTQ community-member as they reflect on this special month. Then, browse upcoming events celebrating LGBTQ History Month and check out our virtual Queer Santa Cruz exhibition.

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Alicia Guzman earned her BA & MA at UCSC and currently teaches Social Studies at Santa Cruz High School. She loves learning and teaching about people who have worked to make the world a better place, and is consistently inspired by the thoughtful and passionate youth of Santa Cruz County! When not teaching or trying to keep up with the news of the day, she likes to escape to the forest or the ocean to soak up all of the beautiful nature we have here in SC.

Is there somebody, perhaps like Rodney Wilson, that supported you during your high school or middle school journey?

In middle school, I had an amazing History Teacher, Mr. Kirkland, who actually made history interesting. He did this by actually telling us the truth. Instead of the stale, sanitized version of history that only includes dates, wars, and old dead men - he provided a much more colorful view of the past. He opened up my eyes to the reality that past leaders weren’t saints; they were human and they made mistakes. This simple concept broke open my view of history and inspired me to learn more about it.

Why do you think it is essential to teach LGBTQ history in our classrooms?

LGBTQ History is American History. We should be learning about the experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of ALL who are a part of our national story. For LGBTQ youth, who are so often left out in a heteronormative world and traditional school curriculum, it’s so important for them to feel seen and acknowledged. Representation matters! But it’s just as important for straight youth to be educated on the amazing contributions LGBTQ Americans have provided this country, as well as their enduring struggle for civil rights.

Is there an LGBTQ icon you look up to? If so, why?

Frank Kameny! I find Frank to be such a wonderful example for ALL Americans. Frank was incredibly accomplished in his life, and brave enough to stand up to a government that was not living up to its ideals. He demanded that Americans be treated equally - regardless of their sexual orientation. Frank wanted to be remembered for his simple and beautiful slogan: “Gay is good!”

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“LGBTQ History is American History. We should be learning about the experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of ALL who are a part of our national story.”

Alicia Guzman

Rob Balloons

Dr. Rob Darrow works as the Director of Research and Professional Learning for the Safe Schools Project Santa Cruz County and as an educational consultant working with various school districts teaching about LGBTQ history and creating a safe and inclusive school climate. In addition, he is an adjunct professor at CSU Monterey Bay. His research interests include LGBTQ history, safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth, professional learning, college counseling, blended and online learning, and school libraries. Before the pandemic, he enjoyed playing beach volleyball. Now he enjoys long walks around Santa Cruz and gardening.

Is there somebody, perhaps like Rodney Wilson, that supported you during your high school or middle school journey?

There were many great teachers I had in middle school and high school around Santa Cruz. At Branciforte Middle School, my most memorable teacher was Arnold Levine - he was also my journalism teacher. He instilled in me the importance of being curious and to not just take every answer on face value. I then interacted with Mr. Levine again at Harbor High when he was the vice principal and I was in the student council. Another teacher I remember from Harbor High school was Libby Harrington - she taught my world history course and really made history come alive for me - she was the advisor for Model United Nations and we became a country and then attended the Model UN event at UC Berkeley each year. I was not out as gay during high school and the earlier years of my life but these two teachers encouraged me to always be my authentic self and to believe in myself.

Is there an LGBTQ icon you look up to? If so, why?

It is difficult to just identify one LGBTQ icon as there are so many. As I have studied and learned more and more about LGBTQ history, the LGBTQ person who I have a special admiration for was Frank Kameny. He was kicked out of government service in the 1950s because he was gay. He immediately fought back by suing the government in the Supreme Court for his dismissal, formed a branch of the Mattachine Society in Washington DC, and organized the first protests from LGBTQ rights in front of the White House. Because he was outed by the government, he was not hired by any other companies, so his job became advocating for LGBTQ rights. His actions set in motion everything that happened in the U.S. related to LGBTQ rights after 1960.

Why do you think it is essential to teach LGBTQ history in our classrooms?

Teaching LGBTQ History is about visibility and recognizing all people in history. Most of us who grew up in California were taught history from the white male perspective and barely touched on other historical perspectives such as women's history, African American history, Latinx history, LGBTQ history, Asian history, etc. This history many of us learned suggests that there is one type of race and/or person that caused history to occur the way it did and they get the credit. Those that were not the "leaders" are often viewed as not as good as others. By teaching LGBTQ history, along with other histories, we are teaching that all people matter in history and are equally important.

Were there resources, like Gay-Straight Alliance clubs for example, available to you during high or middle school?

As I mentioned earlier, I was not out in high school. I was involved with journalism, student government, and Model United Nations at Harbor High School. In my journalism class, I was the editor of the school newspaper and then the school yearbook. As I think about it now, my journalism class - that I took all four years of high school - was a safe space for me. This class, like other clubs or sports, validated who I was and kept me involved in school, in addition to my regular classes.

Bringing it back to Santa Cruz, the stories and history continue. Our first virtual exhibit, Queer Santa Cruz: Stories of the LGBTQ+ Community, launched back in April of 2020. Webinars and virtual tours have taken place since then, with an upcoming virtual tour on Wednesday, October 21st, 2020.

We are eager to continue to adapt and meet the needs of our future community builders, leaders, and social justice activists. For now, head over to FAIR Education for a list of month-long LGBTQ activities. You can also visit our Educational Resources page to browse our current selection of free lesson plans, including one on Pride & Identity.

Then, be sure to stay tuned and sign up for email updates as we are launching new lesson plans on art and creativity very soon. And as always, we are happy to collaborate with teachers and welcome feedback so please feel free to email me at oscar@santacruzmah.org so we can connect.


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