On Aug. 9, 2019, Gov. JB Pritzker signed Illinois House Bill 246 into law, amending the school code to include contributions of LGBTQ+ figures in public schools all over the state, effective as of July 1, 2020. Board members, teachers, students and parents are now learning to adapt to the curriculum changes during the first year with the new directive.
Equality Illinois Public Policy Director Mike Ziri spoke about the push for the mandate, how Illinois plans to introduce the material and feedback he's heard from districts.
"What we heard from some districts over the past year is, 'Hey we want to do this, but can you offer some guidance and resources?'" said Ziri.
Each individual district board is ultimately left to disseminate the curriculum. Equality Illinois and the Legacy Project are resources to help guide districts with the new material. Tools that are being used to guide this process include explanatory videos and a website that's currently in the works.
Although the mandate will look different across the state, the consensus for many districts is to weave LGBTQ+ figures and contributions into the existing curriculum, rather than sectioning it off.
"One way we envisioned it is to weave the stories of LGBTQ+ people in curriculum that's already being taught, so for instance, World War Twoinclude the story of Alan Turing, the father of computer science, who at the end of his life is persecuted for being a gay man," said Ziri. "During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, talk about Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington."
Data from the 2017 GLSEN Illinois State Snapshot, a national school climate survey, found that only 24% of LGBTQ+ students were taught positive representations of LGBTQ+ people, history or events. Only 10% reported that they receive inclusive sex-education. The poor classroom environment and lack of representation for LGBTQ+ students was a large factor for pushing this mandate to make education more inclusive.
"There's data to show that schools that have inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ+ youth say that in those types of schools with those types of curriculum, they feel their peers are more accepting," said Ziri. "We hope that it will create more affirming places for LGBTQ+ youth in schools."
The Legacy Project, a non-profit that researches and promotes LGBTQ+ contributions, created an explanatory video in two parts called "Illinois LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum Overview" to help showcase what the new material will look like and why it's being mandated.
The first video showcases the impact of LGBTQ+ figures, listing out names of well-known LGBTQ+ figures in history including their contributions. Stories of the lives and contributions of LGBTQ+ figures like Leonardo Da Vinci, Eleanor Roosevelt, Billy Strayhorn, Jane Addams, Bayard Rustin, Frances Perkins, Dr. Alan Hart, George Washington Carver, Michelangelo, Kobo Daishi and Alan Turing were discussed. The suggested material focuses on their influence on the world, introducing a positive discourse for LGBTQ+ figures in the classroom.
The video also mentions figures like James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Sally Ride, Barbara Jordan and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Part two focuses on how the Illinois House Bill 246 was initially introduced, who the advocates that pushed for its establishment are, and why the mandate is essential.
Part two answers some of the most important questions for teachers and district leads, noting that the new material will not require new textbooks but will instead rely on supplements, an option that was deemed less costly. Individual school districts will decide which supplements are chosen. The efficacy of the new mandate will be monitored by the Illinois Inclusive Curriculum Advisory Council (IICAC), which is a collective effort of Equality Illinois, the Legacy Project and Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which is now a program of Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago. The Illinois State Board of Education will monitor the compliance to the mandate.
The Inclusive Curriculum Implementation Guidance available to educators includes frameworks, strategies, tools, and resources needed to implement an inclusive curriculum with confidence. The document (which is available online at PHIMC.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/ICL-Implementation-Guidance-Condensed-Edition-Final.pdf) was developed by Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (a program of the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago) for the IICAC with extensive engagement and stakeholder input by the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers and individual educators. Professional development is also available through the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, beginning with a new workshop titled Deepening Our History: Implementing the Illinois Inclusive Curriculum Law. Individuals can visit ILSafeSchools.org/virtual-pd-sessions for a current list of free webinar sessions.
"I think the way it's going to happen, it will first go to district leads, then from the district leads, it goes to principals throughout the state, and then to the teachers in each school," said Salvo. "So in a fairly short period of time it will have filtered out to each individual teacher."
The Legacy Project launched its Education Initiative in 2013. It has adapted its resources into a searchable portal for a variety of lesson plans from multiple sources that will help teachers integrate historically significant LGBTQ people into every subject/field presently studied in Illinois public schools. There are presently 56 lesson plans, with another 20 in development. The ICL Lesson Plan Search Portal can be accessed at https://icl.legacyprojectchicago.org/.
"It's data about the individual school, the subject in school, the grade in school, specific search terms and key words and all of that is different for every person and every lesson plan," said Salvo.
With the new mandate covering LGBTQ+ material, students aren't the only ones learning something new; many teachers know little about the new material and are relying on these webinars, videos and accessible teaching tools for the start of the school year. On the other hand, some teachers have already been trying to push for this inclusive education in the curriculum.
Amy Wooten, a fourth grade teacher at New Field Elementary in Rogers Park ( and onetime writer for Windy City Times ), said, "I, for one, already do this and I think part of it just because of being a queer person so I'm naturally very aware of being inclusive when it comes to tweaking our curriculum to include the voices of all of my students. And the same goes for kind of rethinking with my grade-level partner over the years about making sure the curriculum is multicultural as well.
"It kind of helps at my school; we're incredibly diverse. We have over 50 languages spoken at my school and we've had kids come out in the classroom. So it makes it easier for us to think in a different way and take the time and energy to take a second look at how we teach in the classroom to make them seem included and seen and heard."
Like many teachers, Wooten said she has concerns over how the implementation will be regulated among the other mandates put in place over the years.
"As a teacher, I kind of know how education handles these types of mandates," said Wooten. "So I'm excited as an educator but I'm also very interested to see how it plays out. Because if you went to the Illinois State Board of Education website, you would see there's hundreds of mandates from over the years."
The new material will be added into grades K-12, with different approaches to introduce the material for each age group. Level one, the contribution's approach, focuses on grades three through six. Level two, the additive approach, focuses on grades five through eight. Level three, the transformational approach, targets grades seven through 10. Level four is the social action approach, targeting grades 9-12. Ultimately, the teacher must decide which track level is most appropriate for that instructor's students.
Students and parents of those learning the new material this year are also responding to the new material in the curriculumboth positively and negatively.
Carbondale-based Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ+ Youth Center board member Carrie Vine and her son, Cal, a sophomore in high school, had positive reactions toward the mandate.
Carrie said she believes it's a good thing that more students will be able to see themselves represented. Cal also supports the bill and did a history project on it last year. Being from southern Illinois, they have witnessed a different scope of reactions toward the bill. Cal spoke about the classroom environment, recalling a negative encounter he and his friend once had with a homophobic classmate.
Beyond the negative reactions to the material they've witnessed, Carrie and Cal support the new mandate and believe that it will benefit future generations of students.
"I feel that it is empowering to young people that are struggling with their sexuality and or gender identity," said Carrie. "It gives them the opportunity to realize many people throughout history have had different sexualities and genders other then cisgender or heterosexual."