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News / Northwest

What to know about Washington state’s law requiring LGBTQ+ history in public schools

By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, The Seattle Times
Published: March 23, 2024, 11:34am

SEATLLE — Public schools in Washington will be required to teach students about the contributions and history of LGBTQ+ people under a new law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday.

Senate Bill 5462 mandates that school districts in Washington adopt curricula that include “diverse, equitable, inclusive, age-appropriate instructional materials” that reflect the history and perspectives of historically underrepresented groups.

State learning standards already direct schools to teach students about the historical perspectives of some marginalized groups, such as tribal communities and enslaved people, but did not explicitly require lessons covering LGBTQ+ histories.

“The contributions of gay Washingtonians deserve recognition, and just as importantly, students deserve to see themselves in their schoolwork,” Sen. Marko Liias, a Democrat from Edmonds who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “That leads to better attendance, better academic achievement and better overall quality of life, ensuring success for all our students.”

Washington joins six other states — California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon — that have similar requirements for academic curricula to include representation of LGBTQ+ people in public schools.

Wave of bans

The new law comes at a time when school boards and libraries across the country have faced a wave of Republican-led book and curriculum bans on content related to LGBTQ+ people and people of color.

“Right now, with the attacks from the extreme right, we’re finding LGBTQ people, especially youth, are feeling unsafe,” said Jaelynn Scott, executive director of the Lavender Rights Project, a Seattle-based LGBTQ+ legal advocacy organization.

“It’s important Washington state shows itself as a leader affirming inclusive curriculum for students,” Scott said.

The bill passed in both chambers without any Republican support. Opponents had argued the bill infringes on the rights of parents and powers of local school districts to decide what their kids learn in the classroom.

Benefits of education

In schools where students learned about LGBTQ+ people, history and events, LGBTQ+ students were less likely to hear homophobic or transphobic remarks and less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe, according to a 2021 national survey from GLSEN, an LGBTQ+ education advocacy group. Those students also had better mental health and academic performance, the survey found.

Additionally, LGBTQ+ middle and high school students who learned about LGBTQ+ history or people in class reported lower rates of suicide attempts in the last year, according to a 2023 study from the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth.

“A positive school environment (has) a large impact on the health and well-being of students, even more so than work and home environments,” Scott said.

How the law will take effect

Under the law, the Washington State School Directors’ Association, with assistance from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, will create a model policy and procedure on how to design courses and select instructional materials by June 2025. Then, by October of that year, schools will have to update their policies to incorporate the new curricula.

In other states with inclusive curricula on LGBTQ+ history, schools teach about landmark Supreme Court cases, like Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage in 2015, or how LGBTQ+ subcultures became more visible and accepted during the Prohibition era.