LGBT rights are slowly but surely advancing in America on the national and local levels. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was officially repealed in September. California passed a law last week that requires public schools to teach students — from kindergarteners to high schoolers — about LGBT Americans as a part of U.S. history courses. San Diego State University created California’s first LGBT major, to be offered in spring 2012.
California’s new law and SDSU’s groundbreaking new major underscore the importance of education in generating progress in LGBT rights. Legislature is necessary for change, but perhaps what this fight for rights really needs is a shift from the courts to the classroom.
There’s still much progress to be made. Parents have withdrawn children from school in response to the recently passed law. Same-sex marriage is legal in six states — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire — but not in California. Proposition 8 was overturned last August, but it is currently under stay, which prevents any new same-sex marriages.
When it comes to higher education, LGBT education is complex; and really is the most critical place for the movement to grow.
LGBT education is different at each level of schooling. For elementary school students, educators say it’s more appropriate to stick to lessons on family diversity and anti-bullying, rather than sex or LGBT figures’ roles in history.
For middle- and high school-age students, sex education becomes more important as it fills in the gaps where the LGBT community has previously been left out in history lessons.
Without LGBT studies there can be no increase in knowledge, or research. Without further research, textbooks or information for younger students to learn about, LGBT issues cannot be improved. And without it, there is a lack of support for the community.
Gender studies exists at many universities, but there’s a distinct lack of LGBT-specific education. SDSU is one of only two schools in the nation, along with Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, to offer such a major. City College of San Francisco is also waiting for approval to offer an associates degree in LGBT studies.
The creation of such a major is a sign of increasing acceptance and equality for LGBT students.
It’s understandable that parents take children out of school because of California’s new law — whether for religious or personal reasons — but at the university level, it’s different. Students who don’t agree with LGBT education are unaffected. They can choose not to participate.
By doing so, however, they would miss out on educational and professional benefits. Non-LGBT students stand to gain from the expansion of LGBT education.
According to a study published by the Stanford School of Medicine in September, American medical schools are falling behind in LGBT-health-related curriculum. The study surveyed deans from medical schools on time colleges spend on LGBT issues and found one-third of the colleges surveyed had zero exposure to LGBT issues in the clinical years.
For current pre-med students, applying to medical school armed with a major or a minor and foundational knowledge of LGBT issues could provide a real edge to fill this educational gap.
Employers are always looking for candidates with not just a diverse educational background, but an understanding of diversity, a critical skill for pretty much any career today.
The increasing attention on LGBT rights also has exciting potential to create entire new fields of study across disciplines: from history and literature to medicine and law.
USC offers a gender studies major and minor as well as an entire LGBT resource center. Why not be a pioneering university and expand USC’s resources even further by offering education on LGBT topics?
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish. Her column “Beyond the Classroom” runs Mondays.