A curriculum to familiarize students with the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer social movements, along with the persecution and contributions of the community, would become part of school offerings if a bill filed by State Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, becomes law.

Stevens said it could create a more positive school environment for LGBTQ students and curb bullying against them.

"I'm really excited to put this forward and talk to my colleagues about this," Stevens said Thursday by phone.

The bill filed Tuesday, should it become law, would require the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with a statewide advocacy group to develop the curriculum to be offered to schools. The proposal has not been assigned to a committee.

Stevens said she has talked with officials at the education department and other educators about the idea.

"I think it's really important for LGBTQ students to see themselves reflected in society," Stevens said.

Straight students also would benefit, she said.

"I think it's important for all students when it comes to equality and different successes for students to learn about contributions of LGBTQ individuals to different parts of society, literature, art and culture," Stevens said.

LGBTQ students more frequently suffer from depression, low self-esteem and are more likely to miss school, Stevens said in a news release.

Stevens said in the interview that if the bill passes, it would be the education department's discretion as to which statewide LGBTQ group to partner with on the curriculum but PROMO, an organization that has been advocating for the community for more than two decades, would be a good candidate.

This isn't meant to take control away from local school boards, Stevens said. It requires the education department to establish a curriculum, but it would be voluntary for local school districts to adopt it.

"I would hope local school districts would see the importance of using it," Stevens said.

Shira Berkowitz, spokeswoman for PROMO, said the organization would be willing to help the state develop the curriculum if Stevens' bill becomes law.

"We have really strong connections with educators who can help develop the curriculum," Berkowitz said.

The LGBTQ curriculum is needed in a state where LGBTQ individuals aren't protected, she said.

"To show these LGBTQ youth they're valid is the most important thing," Berkowitz said.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com

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