Last month, we reported on the California Board of Education’s vote to approve 10 LGBT-friendly history textbooks for use in elementary and middle schools. Now we’re getting more details about the behind-the-scenes battle between activists and publishers over how to present the material.
While publishers worked with the activists to identify homosexual and transgendered Americans to highlight in the texts, they clashed over how to handle historical figures who didn’t “out” themselves. State education regulators rejected one set of middle school books because publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt refused to use the LGBT label for some figures, including Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, President James Buchanan, and Jane Addams, the social worker who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt defended its decision by noting none of them identified themselves as gay or transgender.
In many cases, researchers don’t have proof of a historical figure’s sexuality. But in an effort to find historical role models that fit their narrative, LGBT activists have argued for a reinterpretation of facts based on today’s cultural climate. A Gold Rush era stagecoach driver named Charley Parkhurst offers a prime example. Historians agree Parkhurst, a woman, lived as a man, but they don’t know why. Did she believe she was born the wrong gender—today’s definition for gender dysphoria—or did she simply want to take advantage of the benefits living as a man afforded her, including independence and financial security.
Publisher McGraw-Hill refused to apply the LGBT label to some historical figures mentioned in its elementary-level textbook, saying to do so would “raise complex issues related to academic integrity, including factual verification, language and readability.” —L.J.