We are deeply concerned about how the rising national tide of legislated homophobia impacts children in New York state schools. So-called "Don't Say Gay'' laws, such as those enacted in Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis, prohibit the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools. These laws, which were introduced in over ten states last year, jeopardize the mental health and safety of LGBTQ+ youth, stifling crucial discussions about identity among students and teachers.
To combat this rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate across our country, several states have mandated more inclusive curricula for K-12 education. New York can join this critical movement and protect kids by passing the bill (S351/A4375) requiring middle schools and high schools to include instruction on the contributions and ways of life of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people in an appropriate place in the curriculum.
The threat to children is staggering. According to a 2021 national survey, 94% of LGBTQ+ youth felt their mental health was negatively impacted by recent political events. And 82% of LGBTQ+ students reported feeling unsafe at school due to their identity. How can we expect our school-age children to concentrate on their studies when they are expected to learn in an environment hostile to who they are as people?
Moreover, harassment statistics are startling. Over 83% of LGBTQ+ students experienced harassment or assault during the 2021-2022 academic year. This hostile climate negatively affects their mental health and academic performance, causing underperformance and higher dropout rates.
An inclusive curriculum significantly improves these outcomes. According to a 2021 GLSEN study, LGBTQ+ students with inclusive curricula reported significantly better academic and mental health outcomes. Their rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and self harm were dramatically lower. They broadly felt more belonging to their school community, were less likely to miss school due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, and were more likely to plan on pursuing post-secondary education.
Beyond benefiting LGBTQ+ students, an inclusive curriculum is an active step towards cultivating acceptance and respect among all students, providing teachers with resources on topics, such as gender identity and sexual orientation.
Representation and inclusivity are essential. A 2019 GLSEN study reported that less than 20% of students are taught positive representations of LGBTQ+ history, people, or events. An inclusive curriculum benefits particularly rural and marginalized students, who may lack visible LGBTQ+ representations and face more hostile school climates.
Our state, a leader of progressive movements from the Stonewall uprising to the marriage equality campaign, should reflect its legacy of inclusivity and equality in its curriculum.
We implore New Yorkers to support the passage the bills that will ensure there’s an LGBTQIA+-inclusive curriculum in our schools, improving academic outcomes, mental health, and overall school climate. We stand for an educational environment that is safe, supportive, and affirming for all identities. Let's reflect our state's diversity and legacy of inclusivity in our children's education. It's time to pass S351
Melissa Sklarz is a government relations liaison for Equality New York and Robert Jackson is a state Senator representing District 31, which includes Washington Heights, Inwood and Kingsbridge.