OPINION | The implications of removing LGBTQ+ discussions and representation from K-3 curriculum

     Colorado’s revised social studies framework, which was presented to the state Board of Education on April 12, will not allow discussion of LGBTQ+ people and issues in K-3 civics and social studies classes. 

      According to a recent article from the Gazette, “The Social Studies Standards Review and Revision Committee has withdrawn its plans to add … references to the queer community in classes below fourth grade after receiving public feedback asserting that such references are inappropriate for young children.” 

     This revision, while still under review, would be implemented over the summer, mirroring the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that recently passed in Florida. The bill stigmatizes queer identities in lower-grade civics and social studies classes. 

     The excuse, or “assumption” for bills like these is that it reestablishes responsibility onto parents to talk about queer identities with their children at home, in a “safe,” non-academic setting. 

     In an interview with the Gazette, Steve Durham, a state board of education member representing Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, said that “Most parents are uncomfortable … with those discussions taking place in a school setting at those ages.” 

      “From my own perspective, I just could really not imagine what a conversation among children that age would look like, and I think most parents would agree with that,” he said. 

     The main qualms that I have with this revision is that it complicates the LGBTQ+ community in a way that reeks of queerphobia and heteronormativity. 

     To suggest that starting a conversation with young children about queer identities and basic queer existence is so difficult that it should not even be attempted is nothing short of queerphobic. It is clear to me that those who are opposed to teaching kids about the queer community are also against it. 

     However, if children are old enough to learn about heterosexuality and gender norms, then they are also old enough to learn about queer identities. This is an argument I have heard over and over again since the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was passed, and it holds true in our state too —particularly in the evangelical, predominantly white suburbs of Colorado Springs. 

     If sex and sexual orientation were the real issue here, then all mentions of gender and sexuality would be banned from K-3 curriculum, not just the queer stuff. Saying that LGBTQ+ identities are too complicated for kids to understand is basically the same as saying that heterosexuality is the standard that they should follow later on in life — that heterosexuality is easy to understand because it is “right.” This is the epitome of heteronormative. 

Photo courtesy of usatoday.com.  

     Additionally, banning all talk of gender identity and expression implies that cisgendered identities are the only identities that kids should be allowed to identify with and learn about, simply because that is how the pendulum has always swung. 

     There is no doubt in my mind that kids would feel more confident and content with themselves if they were taught about the spectrum of gender and sexuality earlier on in their lives rather than being made to learn about it years after being indoctrinated with heteronormative, cis-centric curriculum that not only refuses to acknowledge the existence of queer identities, but outright bans any mention of them. 

     According to an article from KOAA News 5, a new suicide prevention plan is being introduced to Colorado Springs this year that will implement suicide prevention strategies in schools, businesses and religious groups. Based on this revision alone, I would say that the current suicide prevention formula in Colorado is insufficient and far too short-sighted to actually be successful, and upcoming suicide prevention plans should take queer identities into consideration. 

     Part of suicide prevention is ensuring that students are exposed to different identities and people from a young age. Not allowing discussion of LGBTQ+ people and issues in K-3 civics and social studies classes does the opposite of this — it stigmatizes queer identities and labels them as complicated, inappropriate and in some cases disgusting or unnatural. 

     This revision could be detrimental, and I sincerely hope that come May, when the final recommendations for the social studies standards will be presented to the state board, that this queerphobic revision is disregarded rather than actually implemented. 

     According to the Gazette, Colorado has become a national leader in LGBTQ+ policies and protections. However, this revision indicates that progress in Colorado is short-term, and that queer issues only matter when lives are at risk.  

     Well, guess what? Lives are at risk, because stigmatizing the queer community is harmful, but outright refusing to mention it is life-threatening, especially to kids who are growing up in queerphobic homes and environments; they may have nowhere else to turn to when coming to terms with their own identities. 

     Those who refuse to see this as an attack on queer people need to question what makes their identity and experience more “appropriate” or less complicated than those of the LGBTQ+ community. Queer people are people, and should not be censored in K-3 curriculum just because abolishing the heteronormative, cis-centric norm is “difficult to navigate.”