Take a moment and count to the number forty-nine. Now imagine forty-nine people being targeted, in large part, because of how they identify or who they love. This is the narrative of the worst mass shooting in modern American history that took place in Orlando this past Saturday.

While many Americans have responded to this tragedy with calls for gun control, that’s only a piece of the issue at stake. Since January, more than 160 anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) bills have been brought to state legislatures. These include North Carolina’s contentious bathroom bill (HB2), and a Tennessee bill (HB 1840) that denies mental health services to LGBT people, who are more than two times as likely to struggle with a mental health disorder than heterosexuals.

Table 1. LGBT Facts
LGBT individuals are more than twice as likely as straight individuals to have a mental health disorder.
Suicide attempts are 3 times more common among bisexual individuals than straight individuals.
Sexual minorities have a greater risk of substance use disorders than straight individuals
Compared to non-sexual minority youth, sexual minority youth are twice as likely to report being bullied
Source: http://www.nzingaharrisonmd.com

Ensuring that these instances of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination do not continue to repeat themselves may require society to turn to one of its oldest tools: education. Reports from GLAAD have found that increased knowledge about LGBT people leads to lower levels of discomfort toward this community, and thus can reduce anti-LGBT discrimination.

Yet, there is a lack of education across the nation on this sector of the population, with only one state—California—mandating the implementation of LGBT figures and history into school curricula. Taking that into consideration, one can’t help but wonder: what would have happened if state lawmakers or the Orlando shooter had received more education about LGBT people?

Reducing Discrimination through Education

As the American public learns more about the LGBT community, this can foster LGBT acceptance. LGBT education can be fulfilled in a variety of ways, including getting to know a family member who is gay or a friend that is transgender; it can also include consuming media that features LGBT people or characters. Seeing Caitlyn Jenner on TV, for example, can help make the change from misunderstanding to acceptance, which is extremely important given that only 16 percent of people know someone who is transgender.

…teaching students about LGBT issues and individuals within the classroom could help them better understand LGBT people.

With that in mind, teaching students about LGBT issues and individuals within the classroom could help them better understand LGBT people. Similar to the benefits of racial and socioeconomic integration explored in The Century Foundation’s report How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students, the inclusion of LGBT issues in a school’s curriculum could reduce stereotypes and biases against the LGBT population.

Interacting with people from different backgrounds and varying preferences is an integral skill, as employers today are seeking professionals who can collaborate with our world’s increasingly diverse population. Furthermore, as the TCF contributors Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordora-Cobo explain, learning in diverse environments has been shown to improve one’s educational experience, as it “promote[s] creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.”

Including LGBT content in curricula could also offer LGBT students—who disproportionately feel the effects of bullying in schools—a safer, improved educational experience. More than one-third of gay youth have missed a day of school because they felt unsafe, and nine out of ten of LGBT teens have been bullied in school, which can cause students to suffer academically. Educating students about LGBT issues could foster an environment where LGBT students feel safer in the classroom, improving their overall educational experience for years to come.

Source: GLSEN.
Source: GLSEN.

Implementing an LGBT Curriculum

Incorporating LGBT people, history, and issues in schools’ curricula could combat the widespread homophobia prevalent throughout the United States. In an ideal world, laws like those in North Carolina and Tennessee would be deemed unconstitutional, and people would not violently target those in the LGBT community. However, even the strictest gun control policies and largest campaigns to ban these laws doesn’t erase the problem at hand: intense homophobia exists in our country. Ensuring that information on the LGBT community is provided to the public during the developing years of their lives can begin to address this issue.

There are many notable LGBT people that can be included in school curricula across a variety of fields such as Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, Michel Foucault, Audre Lord, and Bayard Rustin; as well as notable media and sports icons like Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Jason Collins, Lady GaGa, and Laverne Cox. Talking about these individuals’ contributions to society, as well as the battles faced by the LGBT community as a whole, could open people’s minds to LGBT issues.

While including LGBT content in schools is beneficial for students, the way in which this content is presented is just as important, if not more.

While including LGBT content in schools is beneficial for students, the way in which this content is presented is just as important, if not more. Going forward, teachers can adopt an anti-bias lens, a form of social-emotional learning that respects diversity and challenges sexism, racism, ableism, classism, and other societal prejudices. This means educating students about the history of heterosexism, and encouraging these students to speak out in support of the LGBT community.

Some states have already begun to include LGBT history in their curricula. In 2011, for example, California passed the Fair Education Act, which requires schools to teach some aspect of LGBT history, and the results were astounding. Both LGBT and non-LGBT students reported feeling safer in their classrooms when LGBT issues were included in the curriculum.

Another alternative might be to include these requirements in the state-administered Common Core Curriculum. While that curriculum is focused mostly on English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, the ELA section does require that “[students] come to understand other perspectives and cultures.” Certainly, LGBT issues would qualify as a diverse perspective, and Common Core could list that category as a required perspective to explore.

This strategy of diversifying content and teaching with an anti-bias lens could also work to increase an understanding of a number of minority groups including racial and ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities. These categories could be included in a state’s Fair Education Act, as some were in California, and listed in a state’s Common Core Curriculum. For the more a person knows and understands these constantly targeted communities, the safer life could be for everyone.