Why Removing LGBTQ+ and Race from the Standards puts Colorado’s Kids at Risk

Op-Ed by Jennifer D. Klein
Author, Speaker, Facilitator & Coach 〜 CEO, principledlearning.org

The Colorado State Board of Education will be voting in the coming weeks on whether to accept a new round of revisions to the social studies standards that remove specific references to race and LGBTQ+ identities, or whether to adhere to House Bill 19-1192, passed by Colorado voters in 2019, which requires that all K-12 classrooms include the histories and contributions of people of color and LGBTQ+ communities. This move not only contradicts the will of Colorado’s voters and the very real history of our state and nation, but puts LGBTQ+ families and students of color at higher risk by erasing their identities and experiences in the schoolhouse and ignoring their very real vulnerabilities. I believe this is not just a bad move in educational terms, but is incredibly dangerous when it comes to the wellbeing of young people.

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy made his historical remarks on Marriage Equality in 2015, he noted that all adults deserve recognition and validation of their love through legal marriage, and that ensuring such recognition was a matter of child protection because the children of gay parents will be marginalized without it. This is particularly true inside the schoolhouse, where students are away from the protections of family and home. All children deserve healthy, normalized recognition of their families, and the proposed changes hurt children of gay and BIPOC adults by suggesting that there is something wrong with their family make up. 

Furthermore, all students deserve to see their own identities reflected in the curriculum and the teachers who work with them, and the proposed revisions hurt young people of color and children who sense, at any age, that their own sexual or gender orientation is different from the majority. Recognizing and affirming young people’s identities is essential to their wellbeing at every age, and to assume that they don’t recognize their own identity before 5th grade is absurd. Children are aware of race long before they enter kindergarten, and research has clearly shown that traumatic gender dysphoria and bullying on the basis of sexual and gender orientation happen regularly before the age of 7. Normalizing conversations about gender and race is the key to reducing bullying, which occurs most consistently on the basis of taboos and the perceived boundaries to what children consider “normal.” The 2021 revisions did not suggest that K-12 teachers talk about sexual activity with young students; they suggested that unpacking privilege and understanding all identities and experiences was key to improved wellbeing and coexistence, both inside the schoolhouse and beyond its walls. Understanding and participating in society requires understanding how systemic racism and homophobia have impacted our communities and institutions, particularly if we want to raise a generation of solutionaries prepared to work for equity. 

I have lost students who experienced a traumatic response to who they were as early as five years old, and who were made to feel, because of what was visible and hidden in the curriculum and school culture, that something about them was somehow wrong in comparison to the dominant culture they were immersed in. I’ve seen young people of all ages attempt suicide over this dissonance between reality and sense of self, and I’ve seen far too many of them succeed. The proposed revisions will disenfranchise and even threaten the wellbeing any young person with an identity outside the dominant culture (aka white, Christian, heterosexual and heteronormative). On the other hand, research clearly demonstrates that the incidence of suicide decreases significantly when LGBTQ+ students have a safe environment at school, particularly for young people who do not experience acceptance at home. 

I do not believe that humans have the right to judge the validity of others’ existence, and believing we do has resulted in genocide repeatedly throughout history. Just as every white child deserves to feel safe, included, seen and honored for exactly who they are, so does every child of color, every indigenous child, every Jewish or Muslim child, and every child who is either discovering their own LGBTQ+ identity or being raised in an LGBTQ+ family. The newest revisions to the Colorado Social Studies standards suggest that some identities don’t deserve protection and understanding, and by extension that some children don’t deserve safety. 

At the very least, school needs to be a space of love and wellbeing for every single community member. I urge the Colorado State Board of Education to recognize this, and to vote for the wellbeing and inclusion of all children in our state by restoring the 2021 revisions to the Social Studies standards.