Monday, July 18, 2011

Gay History Lands in the Lesson Plan

News item: California is the first state to require public schools to include the contributions of LGBT people in social studies curricula.

We take you to the classroom of Mr. Mitchell a couple of years from now, as he adds the new material to his AP American history class.

Mr. Mitchell: I assume you all read the chapter on civil rights movements last night.

Jeff: Mr. Mitchell?

Mr. Mitchell: Yes?

Jeff: I have a note from my dad. He didn't want me to read the chapter because of the gay parts.

Mr. Mitchell: Do you still want to go to Yale?

Jeff: Yes.

Mr. Mitchell: Read the chapter. Did anyone else have trouble?

Sarah: Well, not trouble exactly, but the picture of gays picketing confused me. The women wore dresses. My aunt's a lesbian, and she hasn't worn a dress since her First Communion.

Mr. Mitchell: Why do you think homosexuals who protested during the period before Stonewall dressed conservatively?

Ben: Because they didn't have a sense of style yet.

Mr. Mitchell: Try again.

Skye: Because they didn't want to offend anybody. People were already wary of them.

Mr. Mitchell: You got it.

Ben: If they were so concerned with what people thought, why did they go to bars run by organized crime? Like Stonewall?

Mr. Mitchell: Why do you think?

Skye: The Mob had better music.

Sarah: The bars were the only places they could be themselves.

Jeff: Why are we learning about bars? We're underage.

Miguel: We covered speakeasies. They were important during Prohibition.

Jeff: I think, if we're going to talk about bars, we should learn something useful. How to make a Manhattan. That's useful.

Mr. Mitchell: I can see we need more structure to this discussion. You all read about the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. But what you didn't read—because the new textbook isn't ready yet, and don't get me started—was that the organizer of the march was a black gay man, Bayard Rustin.

Jeff: Now you're just making things up. If that were true, we'd all know it. It would be a famous fact.

Mr. Mitchell: Ah, Jeff, you've brought us to a critical point. It is true. But why haven't we known it?

Ben: Martians wiped our brains.

Skye: Homosexuality was something you just didn't talk about.

Mr. Mitchell: It was a taboo subject. Gays and lesbians hid that part of themselves, or history hid it for them.

Jeff: I hope we're going to talk about all the bad stuff gays did too. They destroyed Rome and started World War II. That's in my dad's note also.

Mr. Mitchell: No wonder it's three pages. Okay everybody, in my high school history class we studied white men only. What would be the problem with that?

Jeff: Nothing.

Sarah: It makes it sound like everyone else just stood around and didn't do anything.

Miguel: It leaves out the history of everyone else.

Jeff: Can I go see the nurse?

Mr. Mitchell: Why?

Skye: His head hurts from being pried open.

Mr. Mitchell: Let's address the homework question before you depart. For Monday pick one of the names on the board—Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk and Gloria Steinem—and write two pages about their roles in their respective movements. Don't be so depressed, Jeff. In a couple of weeks you get to write about Ronald Reagan.