In D65, LGBTQ+ curricula faces pushback

Xuandi Wang, Reporter

Growing up in the 1990s, Brooks Bullock, a special education teacher at Orrington Elementary School, said he didn’t have the language to affirm his sexuality until he started watching “Will & Grace” and his aunt told him the character Jack was gay.

“I had no way to describe it before that,” Bullock said. “Being able to even just call a name to something that you might be feeling or experiencing, even as a child, is really powerful.”

Bullock said children nowadays have more exposure to LGBTQ communities, due to their increasing media representation as well as learning opportunities in class. This exposure will increase soon — Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill in 2019 requiring all public schools to integrate LGBTQ+ history into curricula by July 2020.

In October, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 had its first-ever LGBTQ+ Equity Week, where students in pre-K through eighth grade discussed subjects pertaining to LGBTQ+ identities, ranging from gender stereotypes to alternative family structures and historical activism, according to the Gender and Sexuality Educator Alliance.

As a special education teacher, Brooks said he had to adapt the curriculum to better suit his students’ needs. He organized read-alouds to share fairy tales of characters who defy gender stereotypes, like a boy who wants to be a mermaid. After the curriculum, he said his students began to draw comparisons to their own experiences and discover more about their identities.

He said one student decided to be addressed by another name he felt more comfortable with. Another student told Brooks he wanted to wear nail polish — since then, he has come to school with sparkling nails with the support of his parents.

“That was really neat,” Bullock said. “It was cool to see a kid expressing himself in a way that he never realized he could before until we talked about it at school.”

Not all parents are happy about the addition of LGBTQ+ related conversation, however. During LGBTQ+ Equity Week, some District 65 parents opted their children out of part or all of the week’s curriculum, according to Lucia Norris, president of the Southeast Evanston Parents Association.

Norris said most of the parents she worked with were upset and called the curriculum age-inappropriate. Parents were also uncomfortable with teachers covering content related to sex and the human body.

“I deal with mostly the Hispanic and black community, and a lot of people are Catholic,” Norris said. “They won’t get this concept. It is just against their whole idea.”

Norris added there was a lack of communication about the curriculum between parents and the school. Parents would be more supportive if class materials were transparent, Norris said.

Melissa Messinger, the District 65 director of communications, said efforts to advance equity often come with pushback and misunderstanding. She added the district doesn’t support the decision to opt students out of the lesson.

“We continue to expect students to participate and believe these learning experiences are vital to supporting our district mission of preparing students to contribute positively to a global and diverse society,” Messinger said in an email to The Daily.

According to District 65 board president Suni Kartha, the school board has not specifically updated its policies to include the new curriculum law.

Bullock said the district should ensure every child gets the chance to participate in this dialogue. He added that teaching LGBTQ+ curriculum to children helps foster empathy and compassion among the next generation.

“We’re not an inappropriate group,” Bullock said. “Deeming that inappropriate… is disheartening. I would be sad if kids miss out on the important information about LGBTQ people and how to be kind to them in this world.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @aaronwangxxx

New Illinois bill would require LGBTQ education in public schools
Teachers and community members speak out against LGBTQ education opt-outs
D65 to revise policies to protect LGBTQ employees