The Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Florida is one of the largest independent LGBTQ-libraries in the United States. In their paper, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives describe the problems LGBTQ-youth face. They often suffer from social isolation and lack role models they can orientate themselves on. To change the often marginalized position of LGBTQ-youth the Stonewall National Museums and Archives, therefore, plans to start Education Services Center that will empower and support young LGBTQ-people.
What is your opinion about the plans of the Stonewall National Museums and Archives? What do you think would make this project successful? And what are your experiences with LGBTQ-education in your country?
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The ABCs of LGBTQ: Educating This and Future Generations on LGBTQ-history The Development of an Education Services Center
Americans often picture themselves as a nation that values raising young people in loving homes supplemented, when needed, by an array of supportive educational, social and community services. We envision ourselves as a society devoted to producing wholesome and productive adult citizens. That warm fuzzy picture evoking a Norman Rockwell montage might be true for some, but it is decidedly false when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
The crisis among LGBTQ youth is well-known. It comes to us through the bullying reports on the evening news, the newspaper headlines of yet another teen suicide or a walk through the entertainment district of any large American city where homeless young people cluster. LGBTQ youth are underrepresented in the positive social and family supports that we, as a society, expect and are overrepresented in social pathologies such as alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness, suicide, school failure and isolation.
Ignorance, disabling stereotypes and downright falsehoods are pervasive. Mainstream youths know very little about their LGBTQ classroom neighbor. LGBTQ young people know little or nothing about themselves or their rightful place in the American pageant. They remain at the margins, for the most part, isolated and hopeless. Yet, the human rights of LGBTQ individuals have become the central civil rights issue of this part of the 21st Century. As one prominent African American recently put it, “I had a more difficult time knowing and appreciating myself as a gay man than I did as a black person. I had black parents as role models. I was like them. But as a gay person, I literally grew up in the enemy camp. There was no one else like me. And when they found out about me, my mother voiced her shame, telling me to keep it a secret so that the relatives and neighbors would never find out.” The result: fear and isolation become the constant companion for LGBTQ youth growing up in America today.
Stonewall National Museum & Archives (SNMA), located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization which collects, preserves and displays one of the nation's finest and most extensive compilations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature, culture and history. It houses both permanent and traveling exhibitions, precious historical artifacts, a top-notch archive and one of the largest freestanding LGBTQ libraries in the United States.
It is the constantly growing and developing Smithsonian of the LGBTQ community, and it is recognized as one of the resources to which increasing numbers of scholars are turning for assistance. Stonewall’s traveling exhibitions have been used as diversity tools by corporations and universities alike, educating many thousands of people about LGBTQ issues, culture, and history throughout the US.
SNMA proposes to develop an Education Services Center especially designed to help young people and others know and understand the place of LGBTQ people in American history and culture. Additionally, it will assist local, regional and national LGBTQ youth in developing a deeper comprehension of who they are. Equipped with this awareness, they can be rightfully proud of themselves. We will help create those messages in their high school, college, family, religious and workplace communities. Our educational services can stop the damage and heal the wounds, perhaps preventing some teen suicides, homelessness and substance abuse.
SNMA needn’t create the market for these services. The market is already there. Many school systems and districts have decided to include the contributions of LGBTQ Americans in their K-12 curriculum.
Implementation has been deferred until 2014 largely because of the paucity of resources and knowledge about how to approach the task. We want to help these schools and districts determine how LGBTQ-related issues should be integrated into the curriculum. We want to answer the questions they have and help them organize the curriculum. We can share with them what written, audio and visual resources are available. We can guide them through the challenge of effectively dealing with community and religious concerns about the issues. We know how the topics can be presented appropriately within the broad spectrum of the American experience. We know about age-appropriate literature. We have the skills and know-how to help the schools effectively create co-curricular activities that support the new curriculum. In other words, we can meet the challenges of responding to the ever-increasing demands for the best educational resources. We can guide local, state and national governments and institutions through the same challenges they faced when confronted with the need to include African- Americans and Hispanics in what had traditionally been a Eurocentric curriculum. State Departments of Education and school districts did not know how to respond to diversity issues. In the early days, they turned to places like the Schomburg Library in New York, along with an array of advocacy organizations, that quickly developed the capacity to help. The same issues confront educators and others today as they scramble to respond to these new challenges. They need our help.
A second example, of the current cry for help in addressing these issues, is the response of the Los Angeles Unified School district to yet another instance of bullying that resulted in a teen suicide. The district mandated that students at different grade levels be taught about great American icons who are/were gayor lesbian. The mandate required implementation within 90 days. That district turned to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives.
A third example is the recent decision by San Diego State University to institute a degree program in gay and lesbian studies – perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, in the nation. SNMA offers library and archive internships to individuals in the library science field. Internships are becoming increasingly sought after as more school districts, colleges and universities expand to include LGBTQ studies and issues.
Additionally, school districts, universities and community agencies are asking for services from SNMA on a variety of LGBTQ topics and issues. It is critical that we respond in an informed, supportive way that makes the jobs of those on the “front lines” easier. There is a sense of urgency about this effort. Not only is there an increasing demand, but the current lingering economic downturn, and the reduction in private and government funded social services is exacerbating the plight of young people at the margins.
While it is difficult to briefly describe the range of activities and resources that would be provided by the Education Services Center, at the simplest level this effort would provide the necessary tools to create a world in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth feel safe and valued. One project that SNMA is working on is having happy, successful and healthy young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people tell their stories to provide wholesome models for young people. While President Obama might say “It gets better” in response to a recent suicide by a young gay man, isolated young people don't know this until they read narratives written in a voice they can relate to and with content that matters to them. Our current project “Our Faces” is attempting to do what a President can’t do, and that is to have gay teens talk and tell their stories.
A critical component of SNMA's Education Services Center involves the online placement of exhibits, artifacts, curriculum units, study guides and narratives from prominent individuals and organizations so that they can be easily accessed. These resources would be specifically targeted at youth-serving organizations and would be easily downloadable for use by these and other local organizations. Such resources will include curriculum units, loose-leaf exhibits on a variety of topics and artifacts of the LGBTQ struggle for human rights. Naturally, access to these resources would be password-protected for users to preclude unauthorized use.
SNMA intends to convene an advisory board of project planners to oversee the development and operation of the Education Services Center. The group will include leaders in the local and national LGBTQ community, elected officials and noted educators. SNMA is seeking suggestions as to who to include on such a development and oversight board.
A typical week at the new SNMA Youth Division would include:
1) The development of dedicated exhibits on topics of interest to youth-serving organizations such as schools, community centers, colleges and universities, etc. These exhibits can be produced on display-sized poster board, on notebook looseleaf-sized paper, as PowerPoint slides and placed online for downloading and reproducing by clients.
2) Ongoing preparation for a national conference for LGBTQ community center representatives on engaging young people in youth-focused programs.
3) Direct service to South Florida Gay/Straight Alliances and university-based groups that will include speakers, PowerPoint presentations and exhibits on loan or online to these organizations.
4) Technical assistance from curriculum development specialists to state/district education agencies as they prepare units of study. Technical assistance can take the form of on-site support and summer workshops for teams from states/ districts etc.
5) Overseeing the process of placing SNMA's extensive artifact collection online so that it's available to subscribers and/or the general public.
6) Publication of periodic updates to clients about exhibits, artifacts, oral histories, study guides and recommended curriculum changes.
7) SNMA will prepare an age-appropriate film series for those interested in film.
8) SNMA will build an evaluation component into the effort using multiple assessment measures. The hope is to develop an activist-type of evaluation in which the external evaluator informs and provides assistance in the ongoing improvement of the effort.
The Education Services Center will become self-sustaining through income generated from publications, broadcasts and internet services as well as joint ventures with other organizations. We envision the Center operating as an independent entity within the structure of Stonewall National Museum & Archives. We anticipate needing a full-time, experienced education director who will contract for part-time and consultant services as projects and partnerships develop.
Our first steps include members of the LGBTI-ALMS conference. By beginning the dialog and sharing current best practices, we can educate the world on LGBTQ history, culture and issues.