Inclusive Curricular Standards
Representation of LGBTQ+ and Other Marginalized Communities Promotes Student Achievement and Wellbeing
GLSEN advocates for the adoption of policies that encourage positive school transformation where all students, including those who are LGBTQ+, transgender, nonbinary, people of color, and people with disabilities, can thrive and reach their full potential.
Access to inclusive curriculum is one of the Four Core Supports identified by GLSEN’s research that improves school climates for LGBTQ+ youth, along with comprehensive nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies, supportive educators, and access to GSAs (Gender and Sexuality Alliances or Gay Straight Alliances). Therefore, in alignment with our mission and our research findings, GLSEN supports inclusive curricular standards that require affirming representation of the contributions and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people, people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), people with disabilities, and all marginalized communities. GLSEN’s support extends to both state legislation and administrative policy1 that establishes inclusive curricular standards. Inclusive curricular standards support the creation of inclusive curriculum at the local level, thereby promoting LGBTQ+ student well-being. LGBTQ+ students who see their full identities reflected in the classroom have stronger educational attainment and better mental health.2
LGBTQ+ young people, including those who are BIPOC and people with disabilities, should have access to curriculum that reflects the fullness of their identities. Curriculum can serve as a mirror when it reflects individuals and their experiences back to themselves.5 At the same time curriculum can serve as a window when it introduces and provides the opportunity to understand other people’s experiences and perspectives.
Advocates in a growing number of states are building support for the adoption and implementation of LGBTQ+ inclusive curricular standards. The following seven states have passed legislation to amend curricular standards for social sciences, humanities, the arts, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to include representation of LGBTQ+ communities: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon.6 In all except one of these states, amendments to include the experiences and contributions of LGBTQ+ people in the state curricular standards simultaneously extended inclusion to another group that experiences marginalization.7 Three states — California, Nevada, and Oregon — have passed curricular standard laws that require curriculum to be inclusive of people who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities.
GLSEN also supports state curricular standards for comprehensive sex and personal health and safety education that are inclusive of people who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities. According to SEICUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, seven states — California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington — and the District of Columbia require by law or administrative rule that sex education provided to students be specifically inclusive of LGBTQ+ young people.8 Among these, GLSEN has identified four states — California, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington — that also require that sex education be inclusive of young people who are BIPOC and people with disabilities. In each of these four states, amendments to include the experiences and contributions of LGBTQ+ people in the state curricular standards for sex education simultaneously support inclusion of students who are BIPOC and people with disabilities in sex education curriculum.
Inclusive Curriculum Promotes Student Achievement and Wellbeing
GLSEN’s research indicates that teaching LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum has profound positive impacts for LGBTQ+ students. The 2019 National School Climate Survey found that compared to students who were not taught any LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ+ students who were taught an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum were less likely to hear homophobic remarks, were less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression, performed better academically in school, and were more likely to plan on pursuing post-secondary education.9 The majority of LGBTQ+ students (66.9%) who were taught an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum reported that their classmates were somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ+ people, as compared to 37.9% of LGBTQ+ students who were not taught an inclusive curriculum.10
Inclusive curriculum might also promote the entry of LGBTQ+ youth into fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, where they are underrepresented.11 Finally, researchers have found that inclusive curriculum can serve as a protective factor for LGBTQ+ students experiencing discrimination, stigma, and instability elsewhere in their lives by promoting mental health, well-being, and resilience.12
LGBTQ+ Students With Disabilities
LGBTQ+ students with disabilities are impacted by ableism, a system of oppression that, like racism or sexism, benefits able-bodied people at the expense of people with disabilities. GLSEN’s research indicates that LGBTQ+ students with disabilities were more likely to be disciplined in school and to drop out of school than LGBTQ+ students without disabilities.13 More than 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ students with disabilities reported feeling unsafe at school because of an actual or perceived disability (22.0%), and LGBTQ+ students with disabilities were also more likely than those without a disability to feel unsafe at school because of their academic ability (30.0% vs. 20.5%).14 Emerging research continues to demonstrate the need to expand inclusive curricular standards to encompass the experiences and address the needs of persons with disabilities.15
BIPOC LGBTQ+ Students
Survey responses from LGBTQ+ students who are Black, Indigenous, or/and people of color (BIPOC) highlight differences in their lived experiences compared to their LGBTQ+ peers who are white. Approximately two-fifths of Native and Indigenous LGBTQ+ students in a recent study (41.2%) experienced harassment or assault at school due to both their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity.16 Over half of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ students (51.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 41.1% because of their gender expression, and 26.4% because of their race or ethnicity.17 Approximately two-fifths of Black LGBTQ+ students in our study (40.0%) experienced harassment or assault at school based on both their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity.18 Among Latinx LGBTQ+ students, more than half (54.9%) reported feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation (54.9%), 44.2% reported feeling unsafe because of their gender expression, and more than one in five (22.3%) reported feeling unsafe due to their race or ethnicity.19 Latinx LGBTQ+ students born outside the U.S. were especially likely to feel unsafe regarding their race/ethnicity (29.1% vs. 21.8% of those born in the U.S.).
These and other findings in existing research suggest the need for curricular standards that are inclusive of communities of color and can help better reflect the experiences of BIPOC LGBTQ+ students.20 The benefits of inclusive curriculum are of increasing interest to educators, particularly those who work to counteract racial oppression and advance intersectional equity in K-12 education systems.21 Additional research findings suggest inclusive curriculum can help boost educational attainment for BIPOC students, as evidenced by higher test scores and an increased likelihood of graduating from high school.22
Discriminatory Curriculum Bans Prohibit Honesty in K-12 Education
Despite the benefits of inclusive curriculum, new and old state laws prohibit honest teaching about the contributions, perspectives, and lived experiences of communities that experience marginalization, particularly LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color. GLSEN sees these discriminatory curriculum bans as connected, not only in the lives of LGBTQ+ students who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), but also because the erasure of the experiences and histories of BIPOC people includes the erasure of communities for whom gender and sexuality are more expansive. For example, Tribal Nations’ struggle to uphold principles of sovereignty and self-determination includes rejecting efforts to denigrate and erase the experiences of Two Spirit/LGBTQ+ American Indians/Alaska Native people.23
Beginning in the 1990s, GLSEN opposed the so-called “no promo homo” laws that prohibit positive and affirming representations of LGBTQ+ identities in schools. GLSEN’s national research has found that these laws have broad negative effects on school climate.24 Thanks to state and local advocates, many of these discriminatory curriculum bans are no longer in place, with Alabama repealing their “no promo homo” law as recently as 2021. However, four states — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi — still have “no promo homo” laws on the books. Moreover, in 2021, three states passed bills that allow parents to opt their students out of any lessons or coursework that mentions sexual orientation or gender identity.25
At the Federal level, the connection between discriminatory curriculum bans targeting LGBTQ+ communities and BIPOC communities has been made explicit in the 2021 joint resolution opposing “Critical Race Theory” in K-12 schools (H. Res. 397/S. Res. 246). The resolution inaccurately characterizes Critical Race Theory as a way to judge individuals based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and national origin. In 2021, certain politicians in 28 states introduced bills prohibiting honest teaching about race and 10 states passed these discriminatory curriculum bans, framing them as bans on Critical Race Theory or “divisive concepts” — the same language used by the former Administration to prohibit federal funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings.26
It is essential that we oppose discriminatory curriculum bans and call them what they are: prohibitions on truthful teaching about our country’s history and truthful representations of human diversity that promote racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Discriminatory curriculum bans ill-prepare all students to live, work, and thrive in our diverse society and particularly harm students who are BIPOC and LGBTQ+. These efforts underscore the importance of state curricular standards that include the experiences, perspectives, and contributions of people who LGBTQ+, BIPOC, people with disabilities, and all marginalized communities.
GLSEN recommends that states adopt curricular standards that include the experiences, perspectives, and contributions of LGBTQ+ people, Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), people with disabilities, and from all communities that experience marginalization. Such inclusive standards promote student wellbeing and educational attainment; advance equity for students that experience marginalization; and prepare all students to thrive and reach their full potential in our diverse and globally interconnected society. Fortunately, several states are leading the way and providing models for others seeking to adopt inclusive curricular standards and to implement them effectively at the local level through new or revised curriculum.
Inclusive Curricular Standards Legislation
GLSEN endorses Nevada Assembly Bill 261 (2021) as a model for other states seeking to adopt inclusive curricular standards for social science, arts and humanities, and STEM subjects. Nevada’s inclusive curricular standards law requires that the “history and contributions” of people who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities, and who otherwise experience marginalization be included in science, arts, and humanities curriculum. Nevada’s law was developed in response to, and with input from, state and local advocates, who were concerned about the wellbeing and educational attainment of LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those who experience intersecting marginalization such as BIPOC youth and people with disabilities.28
GLSEN also strongly supports comprehensive sex and personal health and safety education that is medically accurate and inclusive of young people who are LGBTQ+, intersex, BIPOC, and people with disabilities. California and Washington offer examples of robust inclusive sex education curricular standards legislation.
Implementing Inclusive Curricular Standards Legislation
In order for students to benefit from these laws and have access to inclusive curriculum, state leaders must not only adopt inclusive curricular standards, but also support implementation by local education agencies (LEAs) and schools. Effective implementation occurs when educators at schools and LEAs develop inclusive curriculum, or a series of unified lessons that adhere to the instruction goals outlined in state curricular standards. For example, the Oregon Department of Education provides resources and technical assistance to LEAs and schools that help advance the process of creating inclusive curriculum. As required by S.B. 13 (2017) Tribal History/Shared History, the Department provides professional development training, sample lesson plans, and organizes “train the trainer” events throughout the state.
GLSEN Resources on LGBTQ+ Inclusive Curriculum Implementation
GLSEN’s Inclusive Curriculum Guide provides resources for educators on implementation of intersectional, LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum. For example, GLSEN’s Identity Flowers lesson plan encourages advanced elementary school students to explore their own identities and personal experiences through lenses of race, culture, ability, family structure, religion or spirituality, and gender identity and expression. Middle and high school students can learn about the contributions of LGBTQ+ people — including those who are transgender, nonbinary, BIPOC, and people with disabilities — to the arts, sciences, American history, and civil rights advocacy through GLSEN’s LGBTQ+ History Cards and accompanying learning activities.
GLSEN’s guide provides tips for interrupting anti-LGBTQ+ comments in the classroom and lesson plan ideas that are linked to common core standards, enabling educators to weave intersectional LGBTQ+ inclusive content into all aspects of the curriculum. This prevents curricular “isolation” and “fragmentation,” whereby the contributions of communities that experience marginalization are introduced in ways that do not connect to broader course goals or themes and without due attention to intersectionality. Introducing LGBTQ+ content only during LGBTQ+ History Month (October) or LGBTQ+ Pride Month (June) is one way that curricular “isolation” can occur. GLSEN’s Inclusive Curriculum Guide is available here: https://www.glsen.org/curriculum.
Funding Inclusive Curricular Standards Development & Curriculum Improvement
Federal funding is available to support the development of inclusive curricular standards at the state level and their implementation at the local level, including by creating or purchasing improved curricular content or materials, hiring specialized staff or consultants, and professional development. GLSEN’s report, States’ Use of ESSA to Advance LGBTQ+ Equity, provides information on how states can leverage the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to promote visibility of the lives, stories, and contributions of LGBTQ+ and other communities that experience marginalization in subjects ranging from history to science to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL or ESL) to sex education.29
For example, the California State Board of Education’s (CSBE) ESSA State Plan communicates how the state education agency will utilize federal funds to support implementation of inclusive curricular standards. In the plan, educators acknowledged inclusive curriculum as a component of a broad strategy to support student transitions through grade levels and to increase graduation rates. Therefore, LEAs receiving ESSA Title I “school improvement” grants in the state are given priority registration for trainings on CSBE inclusive curricular standards.30 Competitive grant programs, such as Assistance for Arts Education, the Mathematics and Science Partnerships, and the Improving Literacy through School Libraries can also support curricular improvements. These grant programs support LEAs, particularly those with student populations identified as high-need, in implementing existing state curricular standards and strengthening curriculum, including through educator professional development and partnerships with communitybased organizations.
Inclusive curriculum benefits all students and offers critical supports to youth who experience marginalization. For young people who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities, curricular content that reflects all of who they are promotes educational attainment, mental health and well-being, and the development of a positive sense of self-worth. Inclusive curricular standards and inclusive curriculum must therefore be considered an essential component of broader efforts by states and LEAs to advance intersectional equity in K-12 education systems.
For additional information contact the GLSEN Public Policy Office at 202-621-5815 or email@example.com, located at 1015 15th Street NW, 6th floor, Washington, DC 20005.
2 Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. Available here. (pp. 73-75).
3 Adopted from Common Core State Standards Initiative: “What are educational standards?” Available here.
5 Bishop, Rudine Sims (1990). “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).
Johnson, Nancy J., Melanie D. Koss, and Miriam Martinez. (2018). Through the sliding glass door: # EmpowerTheReader." The Reading Teacher 71.5: 569-577.
6 Policy Maps. Available at https://www.glsen.org/policy-maps.
7 Illinois’s LGBTQ+ inclusive curricular standards bill amended an existing U.S. and Illinois history curricular standards law that enumerated inclusion of BIPOC communities, including African American, Hispanic, Asian America, and Mexican-American communities (2019 HB246). The following year, state and local advocates for LGBTQ+ equity in Illinois supported the development of a curricular standards law that was passed in 2021, which ensures sex education is inclusive of people who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities (2021 SB818).
8 Comprehensive sex and personal health and safety education is required in some of the states, while in others, schools or districts may choose to offer sex and personal health and safety education and, if they do, it must be LGBTQ+ inclusive. In Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont, the state education agency (SEA) encourages but does not require LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum.
SIECUS. (N.D.) State Profiles. (Accessed December 1, 2021).
SIECUS. (2021). A Call to Action: LGBTQ+ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education.
SIECUS. (2021). Sex Ed State Law and Policy Chart - SIECUS State Profiles: Aug. 2021.
9 Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. Available here. (p. 73).
10 lbid. (p. 75).
11 Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. (p. 71).
Carter, Jacob M. (2018). The problem with LGBQT underrepresentation. ASBMB Today. (Accessed November 18, 2021).
Das, Lala Tanmoy. (2020). We need more transgender and gender nonbinary doctors. Association of American Medical Colleges. (Accessed November 18, 2021).
12 LGBTQ+ youth have greater exposure to universal risk factors for depression and other mental health issues owing to factors such as higher rates of conflict with parents. Protective factors are those that promote mental health, well-being, and resilience. See: Stephen T. Russell and Jessica N. Fish, “Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth,” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 12 (2016): 465–487.
13 GLSEN (2016). “Educational Exclusion: Drop Out, Push Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline among LGBTQ Youth.” (New York: GLSEN).
14 Kosciw, Joseph G. et al. (2018). “2017 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools” (New York: GLSEN). (pp. 90-91).
15 See Fornauf, B. S., & Mascio, B. (2021). Extending DisCrit: a case of universal design for learning and equity in a rural teacher residency. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1-16.
Tan, P., & Thorius, K. K. (2019). Toward equity in mathematics education for students with dis/abilities: A case study of professional learning. American Educational Research Journal, 56(3), 995-1032.
H. Samy Alim, Susan Baglieri, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Django Paris, David H. Rose and Joseph Michael Valente. (2017). “Responding to “CrossPollinating Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning: Toward an Inclusive Pedagogy That Accounts for Dis/Ability.” Harvard Educational Review 87:1, 4-25. Online publication date: 15-Mar-2017
Kathleen A. King Thorius and Federico R. Waitoller. (2017). “Strategic Coalitions Against Exclusion at the Intersection of Race and Disability—A Rejoinder.” Harvard Educational Review 87:2, 251-257.
16 Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., and Kosciw, J. G. (2020). “Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools.” (New York: GLSEN).
17 Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., and Kosciw, J. G. (2020). “Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools.” (New York: GLSEN).
18 Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., and Kosciw, J. G. (2020). “Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Black LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools.” (New York: GLSEN).
19 Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., and Kosciw, J. G. (2020). “Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Latinx LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools.” (New York: GLSEN).
20 See Gay, Geneva (2018). “Third Edition: Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice.” (New York: Teacher’s College, Columbia University).
21 Johnston, E., D’Andrea, Montalbano, P., & Kirkland, D.E. (2017). “Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy And Practice.” (New York: New York University). Available here.
Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University. “Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) Stories.” Available here.
22 Educators Writers Association (January 2, 2015). “Report: Mexican-American Studies Breed Better Academic Performance.” Available here.
23 Edmo, Se-ah-dom and Aaron Ridings, editors. (2017). Tribal Equity Toolkit 3.0: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country.
Davis-Young, Katherine. (2019). For many Native Americans, embracing LGBT members is a return to the past. Washington Post.
24 GLSEN. (2018). Laws Prohibiting “Promotion of Homosexuality” in Schools: Impacts and Implications (Research Brief).
25 Arkansas (SB 389), Montana (SB 99), and Tennessee (SB 1229).
26 Executive Order 13950 (2020) prohibited federal funds for “divisive” diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings and pitted individuals’ “racial and sexual identities” against their “status as human beings and Americans.”
27 George, Janel. (2021). A Lesson on Critical Race Theory. American Bar Association. (Accessed December 13, 2021).
McLaughlin, Eliot C. (2021). Critical race theory is a lens-Here are 11 ways looking through it might refine your understanding of history. CNN. (Accessed December 13, 2021).
Sawchuk, Stephen. (2021). What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack? EducationWeek. (Accessed December 9, 2021).
28 GLSEN. (2021). Nevada Passes New Law Supporting LGBTQ+ Inclusive Curriculum. (Accessed December 9, 2021).
29 Washick, B., Tobin, H. J., Ridings, A., Juste, T. (2021). States’ Use of the Every Students Succeeds Act to Advance LGBTQ+ Equity: Assessment of State Plans and Recommendations. DC: GLSEN. (pp. 15-16, 33).