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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 30, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 39
ADL, GLSEN, StoryCorps create LGBT history resource
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ADL, GLSEN, StoryCorps create LGBT history resource

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and StoryCorps announced this week the release of Unheard Voices, a new resource that seeks to integrate LGBT people and events into middle and high school curricula.

ADL, GLSEN, and StoryCorps created the resource, a series of five lesson plans built around brief audio interviews with nine people who bore witness to or helped shape LGBT history in some way, in response to the lack of representation of LGBT people in school curricula and the disproportionate incidents of bullying and violence against LGBT youth.

October is LGBT History Month.

'ADL is proud to be a part of this collaboration and the release of this innovative new curriculum,' ADL curriculum director Scott Hirschfeld said. 'Increasing the visibility of LGBT people and issues in school curricula will help to reduce persistent stereotypes and prejudice, and create safer schools for all.'

Said GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard, 'We were honored to work with our partners ADL and StoryCorps to develop a resource that gives a voice to a part of American history that is often silenced in middle and high school curricula. LGBT people have played an integral but often untold role in our collective history, and GLSEN research clearly shows that the positive portrayal of LGBT people, history, and events in curricula has a positive impact on the entire school community and helps teach students respect for difference.'

'Education is an important strategic priority for StoryCorps,' added Melvin Reeves, StoryCorps associate director of education and special projects. 'The creation of Unheard Voices is a powerful way to give voice to a community whose history and concerns have too often been invisible. It is also a powerful demonstration of how organizations can work together to create results that are rich because of partnerships.'

Each interview is accompanied by a backgrounder with discussion questions and activities for educators, and a student reading with biographical information about the interview subject and historical background on the era.

Several lesson plans are included for middle and high school students that explore broad themes - such as silence and invisibility, inclusion and exclusion, and name-calling - as well as specific topics related to the interviews, such as marriage equality and gender identity. One or more oral histories are integrated into each lesson plan.

According to GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey of more than 7,000 LGBT students, less than a fifth (17.9%) reported that LGBT-related topics were included in their textbooks or other assigned readings. When asked whether they had been taught about LGBT people, history, or events in school, a vast majority (86.6%) of students reported that these topics were not taught in any of their classes, and only 11.7% of students said they were exposed to positive representations of LGBT people, history or events.

The consequences of this invisibility can be devastating for young people. The survey found that 84.6% of LGBT students were verbally harassed and 40.1% were physically harassed at school in the past year, three-fifths (61.1%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and about a third (30%) skipped a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Conversely, the GLSEN study indicates that in schools with positive representations of LGBT topics in the curriculum, LGBT students were less likely to report hearing homophobic remarks or experiencing victimization at school, and more likely to report that school personnel and their peers intervened when homophobic remarks occurred. Less than half (42.1%) of LGBT students in schools with inclusive curricula felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation, compared to almost two-thirds (63.6%) of students in schools without this resource. Consequently, less than a fifth (17.1%) of LGBT students with inclusive curricula reported missing school in the past month, compared to almost a third (31.6%) of other students.

Understood within this context, the resources in Unheard Voices can serve as a lifeline for LGBT youth and a potent bullying prevention tool. More generally, LGBT-inclusive curricula can help educators to create more honest and accurate instructional programs, as well as safer and more affirming environments for all youth.

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