Amid book bans, DEI cuts and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws, 7 states will mandate LGBTQ-inclusive curricula

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a law last week that includes a mandate for the state’s public schools to teach LGBTQ history, as red and blue states continue to diverge on whether schools should expose kids to gay and transgender identities.

The new law, Senate Bill 5462, mandates that the state’s school districts adopt curricula that is as “culturally and experientially diverse as possible,” including the histories of LGBTQ people, people of color and people with disabilities. Schools will be required to institute the inclusive curricula by the 2025-26 school year.

“The governor was happy to sign legislation that aims to ensure students of all races and identities feel safe and welcome at school,” Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, said in an email Monday.

Faulk also referred NBC News to research published in the journal Sex Education that suggests LGBTQ-inclusive curricula can reduce rates of bullying and make children feel safer in school. 

Kristie Bennett is a high school teacher in Sammamish, Washington, who is bisexual and leads her school’s gender-sexuality alliance organization. In an interview last week with NBC affiliate KGW of Portland, Oregon, Bennett echoed Faulk’s sentiment. 

“I’ve seen firsthand how important an inclusive curriculum can be and how life-changing it can be to help a student see themselves in the curriculum instead of some old dead white guys from the 1700s,” Bennett said.

Washington is the seventh state to enact legislation mandating that public schools incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive curricula in some capacity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. The other six are: California, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Illinois, states that have been won by Democrats in the last four presidential elections.

The law also comes as conservative lawmakers introduce record numbers of anti-LGBTQ measures, including legislation to regulate how LGBTQ issues are taught in public schools. 

Over the last several years, Republican officials have sought to limit how sexual orientation and gender identity are taught in school through measures critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” laws; bans on books with queer storylines or characters; and disbandments of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities.

Seven states — all but one of them led by Republicans — have laws in place that restrict the instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in some public schools, according to MAP.

Gabriele Magni, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and director of the school’s LGBTQ+ Politics Research Initiative, called the enactment of the measures to mandate LGBTQ history be taught at public schools a “reaction” to anti-LGBTQ measures introduced in red states.

“It’s similar to the analogy we’ve seen with abortion. On the one hand, you’ve seen states banning abortion or making it much more unrealistic,” Magni said. “And then, on the other hand, you’ve seen states like California or New York ramping up their protections and also offering a more welcoming environment for people who may come from out of state.”

LGBTQ advocates in Washington similarly suggested that their state’s new law was necessary to counter the idea from conservatives that queer identities are inappropriate for children. 

“It’s considered too controversial to mention to kids that Thoreau was gay or Walt Whitman was gay,” Ken Shulman, the executive director of Seattle-based LGBTQ advocacy group Lambert House, told KGW. “Alan Turing — who invented the first computer, helped serve the Enigma code and win World War II — was gay.”

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