Taking LGBT history into the classroom

March 5, 2019

In 2018, the Project was awarded a grant from the City Council to collaborate with the Department of Education in bringing LGBT place-based history to public schools in the city’s five boroughs.

From over 100 educator-submitted requests, our February to May 2019 schedule of sessions was narrowed down to twenty. Our collaboration is the first of its kind: connecting middle and high school students with historic places in their city — and even in their own neighborhoods — that reflect the LGBT community’s contributions to New York and American history and culture.

Working with education consultant Melissa Mott, we’ve so far visited five classrooms, from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, to the south shore of Staten Island and the Fordham section of the Bronx. Grounded in a discussion about the erasure and/or misrepresentation of many diverse histories, the visits provide students of all backgrounds with the opportunity to rethink how they see or don’t see themselves or their classmates reflected in the telling of American history. Our lessons also seek to position LGBT youth in the center of their own stories by reinterpreting historic locations, events, and people to highlight previously invisible LGBT narratives.

The feedback we’ve received so far from NYC educators has been wonderful:

I was delighted to have the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project visit my classroom. Their presentation was interactive, student-driven, and dynamic; it asked students both to engage with new material related to NYC history, and to re-contextualize some material they were already familiar with. For example, many students have read Langston Hughes in middle or high school, often in the context of reading Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun; but my twelfth-grade English students were audibly shocked to hear that both were members of the LGBT community, and further, that they could visit the actual sites where both writers lived and worked in New York City. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s place-based history creates a new sense of relevance for students who may be prone to look at history as already written or as a simple case of “this is what happened”; the NYC LGBT Historic Sites project reframes history as a narrative written by a dominant culture, and as part of an ongoing struggle for recognition and civil rights taking place right now, right here.

– Katherine Montgomery, Phd; English teacher at TAPCO (Bronx)Shown here, Project co-director Ken Lustbader and education consultant Melissa Mott travel to Staten Island to share LGBT history with public school students.