Opinion editor's note: This article, part of our New Voices collection, was written by a first-time contributor to Star Tribune Opinion. For more information about our efforts to continually expand the range of views we publish, see startribune.com/opinion/newvoices.


When I stand in front of a ninth-grade science class, I'd like to think my gender doesn't matter. We have more important things to talk about, from neuroanatomy to air pollution.

This past summer, I was a teaching fellow at a summer program in St. Paul. There were many LGBTQ+ teachers, not that all the students knew that (How many teachers want to discuss their dating lives with students? None. Thus, the students don't necessarily know or care which of their teachers might be gay or bi, etc.)

As the only teaching fellow who exclusively uses they/them pronouns, however, my situation was a little different. My identity is not a problem for anyone, just a fact of my existence, and so I saw no reason to keep my gender a mysterious enigma in front of teenage students. From day one with my rising ninth-graders, they could tell just from my name tag that I was part of the transgender/nonbinary community. While my gender isn't a big deal to anyone, I did realize throughout the summer that having a nonbinary teacher was an important first for many of my students.

Some students, at ages 13 and 14, are starting to figure out that they might belong to the LGBTQ+ community themselves. Having a transgender adult they can look up to, and even come out to, can be really meaningful.

Since I was a science teacher, spending more time on lab activities than journaling about our personal identities, you might assume I never talked about LGBTQ+ issues in class. Yet there are plenty of ways that queer representation can appear, even in STEM curriculum.

For one homework assignment during our DNA unit, I asked students to read short bios about three scientists in real life who study DNA. All three scientists appearing on the worksheet happened to be LGBTQ+, in honor of Pride Month. Thanks to the wonderful website 500 Queer Scientists, increasing the visibility of LGBTQ+ people working in STEM fields, I was able to easily find information for my students and show them that LGBTQ+ adults can thrive and succeed in any academic field they choose. If that website had not existed, that would have been a more difficult task for me.

This brings me to my nationwide concern as we are now in back-to-school season. The last legislative session was traumatic for LGBTQ+ kids across the country. The ACLU reports that more than 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills focused specifically on schools and education appeared in state legislatures around the country in just five months, by May 2023.

But after the hullabaloo of most states' legislative sessions died down, a positive bill supportive of the LGBTQ+ community was introduced at the federal level. It's called the LGBTQI+ and Women's History Education Act of 2023 (HR 4273).

This legislation, according to the text of the bill, "authorizes Director of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution to support LGBTQI+ history and women's history education programs." Practically, this would mean teachers have more resources for educating their students about the people who came before them. As an inexperienced teaching fellow at the start of this summer, often searching websites for materials I could use for my classroom's slide shows, I learned firsthand how useful this bill could be.

It's needed. According to the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, only 13% of named historical figures in textbooks across the United States are women. Gender-nonconforming folks are even rarer to find in history books, even though we have always existed. A national survey from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that only 16.3% of respondents have been taught any positive representations of LGBTQ+ people, history or events in their classes. That's actually a 3-point decline since 2019.

Currently, of the 34 cosponsors of the LGBTQI+ and Women's History Education Act, not a single one is from Minnesota. I call on Minnesota's elected representatives to become cosponsors. In no time, we should see these names added in support of the bill: Reps. Brad Finstad, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber. Minnesota students can be empowered by a well-researched, accessible curriculum that represents them.

Yara Changyit-Levin studies public health and anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.