F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, believes that in literature, “You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
10.3% of students in California are LGBTQ-identifying, yet they seldom see themselves represented in the books they’re assigned to read, thus feeling a profound sense of isolation and loneliness.
Because young people spend so much of their formative years as students, classrooms shape their experiences and the people they’re becoming.
LGBTQIA+ students at BOHS are susceptible to feeling marginalized since only one—yes, just one—of the novels, poems, and short stories we are exposed to between seventh and twelfth grade feature LGBTQIA+ characters.
This lack of literature about the LGBTQIA+ community needs to be addressed, and fixed, because LGBTQIA+ students at BOHS deserve — rather, need — to see themselves represented in the poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and novels they read in school.
Because LGBTQIA+ students can feel unwelcome and have “fears of getting called a slur or a hate crime,” a queer-identifying BOHS student (who chose to remain anonymous), told the Wildcat, it’s essential that we create a safer environment on campus. One way to achieve: create a more inclusive curriculum in our English classes.
The feelings of alienation arise when students are forced to navigate their identities in an environment that doesn’t acknowledge them. However, LGBTQIA+ identifying students who attend schools with an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum—one with lessons about pronouns, history units about important figures/events in LGBTQIA+ history, LGBTQIA+ inclusive sex education classes, and LGBTQIA+ literature—are significantly less likely to hear derogatory and homophobic remarks, less likely to feel unsafe at school, have higher chances of stronger academic performance, and feel an overall sense of belonging at school.
Further, students who identify as cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) are provided with the opportunity to learn about the LGBTQIA+ community, and ultimately respect it, by reading LGBTQIA+ books. Integrating LGBTQIA+ literature can act as windows, and even mirrors, into students’ real-life experiences, creating an opportunity to foster acceptance and combat prejudice.
Rebecca Park, junior, and an advocate for more a diverse curriculum, agrees that, “Having peers who are educated about the LGBTQIA+ community would allow them to learn about the constant suppression/discrimination faced daily…[books that] acknowledge [its] existence would help students feel appreciated, and even help students who are scared to come out.”
BOHS’s current English department reading list is dominated by straight white men. Out of the 16 core works taught to most students at BOHS, two are by openly gay authors (Oscar Wilde and Truman Capote), and only one—The Picture of Dorian Gray—features protagonists and a story that develop themes—like true love in non-heteronormative relationships and self-acceptance—important to LGBTQIA+ community.
This lack of diversity in the books we read is an affront to all students expecting representation and diversity in their education. Students are only being exposed to one perspective—a cishet white one—making it harder to connect with the ever-changing world we’re living in and building.
The English department might look to our very own library for guidance. The BOHS library offers Rubyfruit Jungle, Carry On, The Color Purple, and Middlesex, all notable LGBTQIA+ works, and all worthy of inclusion in the department curriculum.
The Color Purple, for example, has a sublime portrayal of being a Black lesbian woman since its author, Alice Walker (who identifies as bisexual) shared romantic experiences through the story’s protagonist, Celie, and her lover, Shug Avery. This “short read and powerful story about women,” would help with “acknowledging and having open discussions about LGBTQ+ communities and individuals and their experiences both in fiction and in the real world,” Amanda Hefner, AP English Language and Composition teacher, said.
The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller, is another standout LGBTQIA+ novel loved by readers for being “sweet, a little bittersweet, but not cliche or corny; it’s very well-written and heartwarming,” according to Nyah Maldonado, junior.
Brit Bennett’s 2021 novel, The Vanishing Half highlights a relationship between Jude, a black woman, and Reese, a trans man. Reese’s friend Barry, who “was Bianca on two Saturday nights a month, and otherwise, he pushed her out of sight,” has a complicated journey in navigating his identity as a drag queen.
Making BOHS a safer environment for LGBTQIA+ can be done by just introducing novels, and the ensuing in-class conversations about it. Whether it be through analyzing the complexities of Greek mythology and the openly gay relationship between Achillies and Patroclus in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller; diving into classic Black literature with the lesbian couple, Celie and Shug Avery, in The Color Purple by Alice Walker; or exploring how transgender people like Reese and Barry/Bianca handle living in a 1950s Southern society that doesn’t accept their identities in The Vanishing Half. Students deserve these selections (or selections like this, which shouldn’t be hard to find—since 2008, the young adult (YA) genre alone BOHS—in particular, BOHS’s English department—can do better to amplify the voices of people in the LGBTQIA+ community, simply by replacing a current core work with something more modern and inclusive. LGBTQIA+ identifying students, after all, must feel safe and welcome on campus.