LGBTQIA+ History and Why It Matters | Facing History & Ourselves
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LGBTQIA+ History and Why It Matters

Students learn about two millennia of LGBTQIA+ history and reflect on how that history is represented in their textbooks and curricula.      


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About This Lesson      

While many students have heard about some events in LGBTQIA+ history (such as the Stonewall Riots or the activism, political career, and assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco), many significant people and events in the history of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement are often underrepresented in textbooks and K-12 curricula. In this lesson, students will learn about LGBTQIA+ history spanning from the Roman Empire to the year 2016 by participating in a human timeline activity. The activity uses resources created by GLSEN, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQIA+) students have access to a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.

By examining the broader sweep of LGBTQIA+ history, this lesson helps students put people and events into more meaningful context. This lesson also gives students the opportunity to consider whose experiences are included in the history taught in schools, whose are often left out, and how that may reflect and perpetuate the “in” groups and “out” groups in our society. Over the course of this lesson, students will practice important skills such as summarizing, inferencing, and presenting material orally as they learn about LGBTQIA+ history and reflect on how that history is represented in their textbooks and curricula.




How can the way that history is taught and remembered create or reinforce “in” groups and “out” groups in a society?

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 2 handouts
  • 3 extension activities

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Lesson Plans





  • Tell students that in this lesson they will be learning about LGBTQIA+ history but first, they will reflect in their journals on whose stories are represented in their social studies and literature classes, whose stories are oftentimes left out, and how that exclusion might impact the identities and experiences of individuals in those groups.
  • Ask students to create a pie chart in their journals that represents, in their experience, the groups of people whose stories are represented in their history and literature books and classes, and the percentage of time devoted to each group. You can let students define the groups themselves, or you might name some specific groups (such as African Americans, Latin Americans, LGBTQIA+, and white Americans in an American history course) to get them started.
  • Underneath their pie charts, ask students to respond to the following questions in their journals:
    • What conclusions about your social studies and literature curriculum can you make based on your pie chart?
    • What questions does your pie chart raise for you?
  • Before teaching this activity, print and cut apart the GLSEN LGBTQIA+ History Cards. Because there are probably more cards than students in your class, decide which ones you will use. We recommend choosing cards that have enough historical context (e.g. those that include the name of a president, civil rights leader, or well-known historical event) to help your students guess when their event falls on the timeline. Also include some cards that span the entire timeline, which starts in 130 A.D. and ends in 2016. If you plan on using the activity in multiple classes, consider copying the cards on cardstock or laminating them so you only have to make one set. You might also choose to hang four to six signs along the length of your classroom with dates between 130 A.D. to 2016 to help students space out their human timeline.
  • Tell students that they will be making a Human Timeline of significant events in LGBTQIA+ history. After distributing one GLSEN LGBTQIA+ history card to each student, ask them to respond to the following prompts in their journals before you begin the human timeline:
    • Summarize your event in your own words.
    • What do you already know about your event? (Skip to the next question if this event is entirely new to you.)
    • What do you want to know about your event that is not included on your card?
  • Invite students to stand up one at a time and place themselves where they think they fall on the timeline. They should share their summaries as they do so. They might also volunteer to share an idea or question that arose in their journal reflections. You might ask students to infer any connections to the events that precede or follow their place on the timeline. As more students join the timeline, invite those who have already presented to move to a different spot if they think their initial guess was incorrect. Continue this process until all of the students are standing along the timeline.
  • At this point, you might project the GLSEN LGBTQIA+ History Timeline handout to help identify the proper placement of events on the timeline and move any students who are in the incorrect spot.


  • Ask students to return to their seats and distribute the GLSEN LGBTQIA+ History Timeline handout to the class. Students might read through the timeline on their own or with a partner. To encourage active reading, ask the students to annotate for the following information:
    • Place a check in the margin by any events that you know something about.
    • Place stars by three events that you think are especially significant in LGBTQIA+ history.
    • Write 1–2 questions in the margin alongside events you would like to learn more about or that contain vocabulary or content that you do not understand.
  • You might first have students Think, Pair, Share their annotations with a partner. Challenge the students by asking them to explain to their partner what they know about events they checked on the timeline handout.
  • In a class discussion, ask students to share what they know and the events they starred. You might record a list of these events on the board and have students explain why they selected them as important. Students can also pose their questions, which could be answered in class or for a homework.

  • These next questions could spark a class discussion, reflective journal response, or Exit Ticket response:
    • What is the value in learning about LGBTQIA+ history, and the histories of groups that received a small slice of pie on your pie chart from the first activity?
    • What difference would it make if LGBTQIA+ history, and the histories of groups that received a small slice of pie, were woven into the curriculum and given proportional weight in textbooks and literature classes?
    • How can the way that history is taught and remembered create or reinforce “in” groups and “out” groups in a school? in a community? in larger society?
  • For homework, you might ask students to learn more about the event or person on their timeline card to share in the next class, or they could choose a person or event from the timeline that interests them to learn more about.


Extension Activities

  • To learn more about the attempts to purge the US military and federal government of gay and lesbian employees during the Cold War and decades later, consider showing the video The Lavender Scare: Gay and Lesbian Life in Post-World War II America. Some events from the Human Timeline activity are referenced in this video, so it is a good follow-up activity if you have time for a more in-depth exploration of LGBTQIA+ history in the United States.
  • You might ask students to complete a 3-2-1 reflection after viewing the film in which they record three things they learned from the film, two connections between the film and GLSEN’s LGBTQIA+ Timeline activity or their own history courses, and one question the film raises for them.
  • Students can debrief their 3-2-1 reflections with a partner, in groups, or in a class discussion. You might also create text-dependent questions to accompany the film or connections questions that help students connect the information from the film to other content you have covered in your class, such as World War II, the Cold War, or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

  • If your students are in a US History or American Literature class, you might ask them to compare the events and people listed on GLSEN LGBTQIA+ Timeline handout with those in their history books. How many events and people from the timeline are included in their textbooks? What LGBTQIA+ events and people in their textbooks are not listed on their timelines? Students can add this information to their timeline handouts. They could also explore their literature books to see how many of them were written by LGBTQIA+ authors or contain LGBTQIA+ characters or themes.
  • Students can share their observations in small group or whole class discussions that might focus on the following questions: What observations can you make about the presence or absence of LGBTQIA+ events, people, characters, or themes in your American history and literature books?
    • How might the presence or absence of LGBTQIA+ events, people, characters or themes impact students in your school community, both those who may identify as LGBTQIA+ and those who do not?
    • How would you go about weaving in some of the historical events and people from the timeline cards into your history or literature courses?
      • Choose three events or people from the GLSEN LGBTQIA+ Historical Timeline handout that you feel are important and are not currently included in your textbook.
      • Decide where in the textbook the event or person should be introduced. (Is your textbook organized chronologically, thematically, regionally?)
      • Explain your decisions to your group (or in writing) and make suggestions about how each person or event could be woven into the existing content.

Consider showing older students the Academy Award winning documentary film, The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, 1h30m). This film contains archival footage and news clips to capture the life and times of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to win elected office in California and was assassinated a year after his election. While watching the film, you might ask students to record notes about key events that shaped Milk’s life as well as their personal reactions to the film using the Two-Column Note-Taking strategy. In a discussion following the film, you might list the events on the board that students recorded in their notes and then work together to place them in chronological order. Students could add any new events to their GLSEN LGBTQIA+ History Timeline handout for a more complete picture of LGBTQIA+ history in the 1960s and 1970s.

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

The handouts below are used in this lesson.      

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