Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) this week introduced a resolution calling for city public schools to incorporate the history of the gay rights movement into their curriculum with a press conference Tuesday on the steps of City Hall.
Dromm said the curriculum should begin in kindergarten “as part of a natural discussion” that is not about sex, but rather that demonstrates people of different sexual orientations exist, have accomplished great things and deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else.
The openly gay lawmaker also believes lessons should include the social, political and artistic contributions of notable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals such as Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Stephen Sondheim, Walt Whitman, Truman Capote, James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein. Dromm added that excluding them is “dishonest and inaccurate.”
“A biography of the life of Harvey Milk should be on the bookshelves of every school,” Dromm said. “We need to teach kids the truth. The LGBT community has contributed to the history of this nation.”
Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office. He was later assassinated.
When Dromm came out of the closet in 1973 at the age of 17, he said, it was very difficult. “Back then it was still considered a mental disorder,” he recalled. Dromm credited the support of his mother for helping him cope with the sensitive situation; his father had died some time earlier.
October is LGBT Month and Dromm announced his plan on National Coming Out Day. It is supported by fellow openly gay City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and others.
“Through education, we can create a greater understanding of our diverse city, and make our schools a safer place for all young people including LGBT youth, many of whom endure endless bullying,” Van Bramer said in a prepared statement.
Some 84.6 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, cited by Dromm. The survey also said that 40.1 percent of students were physically abused at school over the last year because of their sexual orientation and 27.2 percent because of which sex one comes across as, Dromm noted.
“Discrimination hurts,” he said, “and we have to get rid of it wherever we find it.”
The lawmaker said the changing of school history lessons would not cost the Department of Education additional money, because the agency is constantly buying new textbooks that are always being revised as events happen and changes occur.
Dromm, a former public school teacher for 25 years, said history lessons are often taught according to themes, and he believes LGBT history could be explained along with the black civil rights movement and women’s suffrage. It would provide both positive role models for LGBT youth and help prevent the perpetuation of homosexual stereotypes, Dromm said.
A spokeswoman for the DOE said schools’ curriculum already includes discussions of many of the works by Sondheim, Capote, Whitman and Baldwin. She also noted that two city schools are named after gay pioneers — Rustin and Milk. In addition, she said, the DOE has a Respect for All program that aims to help students embrace the differences in each other.
Annette Bradley, a former early childhood education teacher at York College for 16 years, supports Dromm’s proposal, calling it a “healthy” way to integrate the curriculum.
“I think children would benefit from that,” Bradley, who is African-American, said Tuesday. “How long can we keep gay people locked away? It’s akin to the civil rights movement — if we keep at them at the back of the bus, they’re invisible. There are so many horror stories about gay people being attacked.”
Many see the gay and black civil rights movements as similar, while others say discrimination against the LGBT community does not compare to the history of slavery and the Jim Crow era. But both Dromm and Bradley agree — it doesn’t matter who suffered for a longer period of time or who endured worse atrocities, because as Bradley put it “Suffering is suffering.”
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he supports Dromm’s plan if it is done in a way that educators can agree upon, adding “It is better to learn about different things that exist in the world rather than to be surprised by them.”