Beginning next year, Illinois schools will be required to include the positive contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in their history curriculum.
Under a bill signed last week by Governor J.B. Pritzker, public schools in the state must include LGBT individuals in history lessons, and use textbooks that include the roles of people protected under the state’s Human Rights Act. The new law takes effect July 1, 2020.
Illinois is the fifth state to pass such a measure, according to advocates for the legislation.
State Rep. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said she worked for two years to pass the legislation. Steans said she believes the legislation will help LGBT youth feel safe and supported in school.
“My oldest child is trans herself. And it’s definitely a challenge,” Steans said. “And feeling accepted and seeing yourself in the history books just makes a difference to your own self esteem. I’m very pleased we were able to get this done.”
Equality Illinois, a group that advocates for the civil rights of LGBT individuals in Illinois, also supported the legislation.
Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the new law will transform the lives of LGBT youth in Illinois. A 2017 nationwide survey of LGBT youth conducted by GLSEN, an organization that advocates for LGBT inclusion in schools, found that only about 20 percent of youth reported being taught positive representations of LGBT people, history and events. Youth who reported receiving LGBT-inclusive lessons were less likely to report feeling unsafe in school, and performed better academically.
“Imagine a generation of Illinois students having learned the positive contributions of LGBTQ people to U.S., Illinois, world history,” Johnson said. “I think it’s only going to have a positive effect on our society’s view of LGBTQ people.”
The GLSEN survey also found that LGBT students in schools with inclusive curriculum were less likely to hear homophobic and transphobic remarks.
Opponents of the legislation include religious groups like Concerned Christian Americans and the Illinois Family Institute. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Illinois Family Institute as a hate group because of its anti-LGBT agenda.
Steans said the bill ultimately passed with bipartisan support. States that have passed similar measures include California, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon, according to Equality Illinois.