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Illinois Could Become the Third State to Teach LGBTQ History in Schools

The Prairie State would join California and New Jersey in mandating queer-inclusive history education in K-12 schools.

Harvey Milk and Marsha P. Johnson could soon be headed to classrooms in Illinois.

Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a landmark bill that would require K-12 schools to teach about the “roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people” in history courses. On Wednesday, March 13, House lawmakers voted 60 to 49 in favor of the “Inclusive Curriculum Bill,” also known as House Bill 246.

During debate, Rep. Anna Moeller (D-Elgin) claimed the contribution of LGBTQ individuals in history has remained hidden and unacknowledged” in schools. “This exclusion has denied students the opportunity to obtain a greater and more accurate understanding of world history, and it also has denied LGBTQ people their identity and reflection in our school curriculum,” Moeller told her House colleagues.

LGBTQ representatives in the legislature say the bill’s passage is long overdue.

Greg Harris, Illinois’s openly gay majority leader, says it’s more “important than ever to understand our common humanity” following attacks on marginalized groups both in the U.S. and abroad. Just hours after HB 246 passed the House, at least 49 people were brutally murdered in a mass shooting targeting two mosques in New Zealand.

“It’s important that new generations of students learn about the history of many diverse groups and their contributions to science, art, politics, business, and society at large. It's about time LGBTQ history is included,” Harris tells NewNowNext.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) adds that the LGBTQ curriculum bill is “simply good policy.”

“As someone who grew up in a small town and didn’t see myself reflected anywhere, I know it would have made a difference to see examples of who I could be,” the out lesbian lawmaker tells NewNowNext. “As someone who regularly hears from young people who are inspired by seeing their possible future in my career, I know for a fact it makes a difference.”

There’s been some confusion about what happens to the legislation next, however.

Although The Hill reports that HB 246 is headed directly to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for approval, the bill must make a pit stop in the State Senate first. The Senate approved a similar measure last year, but the General Assembly adjourned for the year before an LGBTQ-inclusive education bill could be made law.

The Illinois Senate is likely to pass HB 246. Democrats boast a 40-19 supermajority in the legislature’s upper chambers and actually added three seats since the lawmaking body last voted on the bill in 2018.

While Pritzker has yet to make a public comment about the legislation, he has long been a supporter of LGBTQ rights. As Equality Illinois notes, the billionaire turned politician “was among the first business leaders in the state to call for marriage equality, well before the bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature.”

Brian Johnson, CEO of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, lauded the curriculum bill’s potential passage as game-changing for the state.

“As a former first grade teacher, I know how an inclusive education system can create change within a community,” Johnson said in a statement. “By including information in public school curriculum about the contributions of LGBTQ people and the historical events they were involved in, we will get closer as a state to telling the whole story of our shared history.”

Should Pritzker sign the bill into law, Illinois will be the third state to mandate that public schools teach LGBTQ history following California and New Jersey.

While HB 246 may look like an easy victory for LGBTQ advocates in Illinois, the bill has faced some opposition. Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) claims the legislation is “more of an effort of indoctrination than of learning history about individuals who accomplished important discoveries in science or created great works of art.”

The conservative Illinois Family Institute (IFI) believes the bill “normalizes homosexuality," calling it an “unfunded mandate” to “politicize curricula in order to advance biased beliefs about sexuality to children in our tax-funded government schools.”

“Thanks for nothing to the 60 feckless state representatives who demonstrated again why Illinois is such a sorry state,” IFI Executive Director Dave Smith said in a statement.

However, the biggest obstacle to HB 246 is not Republican opposition, but money.

According to Capitol News Illinois, the bill will not have “any immediate impact.” The proposal “only applies to textbooks purchased through the state’s textbook block grant program, which has not received any funding for the last five years, and which the State Board of Education has not requested funding for in the upcoming budget,” claims the local newspaper.

Barring roadblocks, the queer-inclusive curriculm bill will go into effect in July 2020.

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