RICHMOND, Va. -- October is LGBTQ History Month and observes the history of gay rights and the contributions of LGBTQ figures.
However, many students who are a part of this diverse community will graduate from high school having never learned about struggles experienced and positive impacts made by people with who they identify.
In Virginia schools, LGBTQ history isn't widely recognized.
"I think teaching this would result in students having a better understanding and grasp around the LGBTQ community, who they are, what they've done, who people are in the community. And I think as a result of the increased awareness, it would potentially cause less discrimination to occur," one student said.
This discrimination, unfortunately, hits close to home for some students.
16-year-old Alexander Campbell said he witnessed students damage an LGBTQ history month banner at Powhatan High School.
After it was thrown in the trash, the students were disciplined. However, the principal decided not to rehang the banner, saying it caused "substantial disruption" in the learning environment.
"I think we have to evaluate who was it disruptive to? Is it disruptive to LGBTQ students when they see that banners like this when the bullies are allowed to win at school? Absolutely," another student said. "What I've personally seen from this at school is a decrease in mental health, a decrease in self-confidence, particularly among LGBTQ students. And I think it really was disheartening."
Campbell said that the incident sheds a light on the need for more LGBTQ education.
Across the United States, six states have passed legislation requiring schools to implement LGBTQ inclusive curriculum, including California and New Jersey.
On the other hand, there are a few states that ban instruction on LBGTQ issues in public schools, like Texas and Mississippi.
Virginia does not mandate or forbid teaching LGBTQ curriculum but instead allows local school divisions to include it in their lessons if they choose to do so.
"There's this fear of teaching that which has not been taught before, right? But we've done that throughout our history. We've done it with civil rights," Dr. Judith Dunkerly-Bean, an assistant professor of literacy at Old Dominion University, said.
She works with teachers on ways to introduce LGBTQ topics into their classrooms.
"Know how to include materials so that children see themselves reflected, whether it was picture books or in new stories or in social studies texts, so that it became representative," Dr. Judith said.
Dr. Judith said that representation is important.
According to GLSEN, 90% of LGBTQ students say they hear discriminatory comments in school. 84% report verbal harassment and 25% say they've been physically hurt by another student because of their sexual orientation.
"We know already that children if their brain is in a state of fear or stress, they cannot learn," Dr. Judith said.
Still, some parents view LGBTQ representation as a political agenda or a special interest.
"When things are about topics that might be controversial within their own home, they feel like that is distracting their child from focusing on achievements in the areas of reading, writing and math," Victoria Cobb, who advocates for those families through her work with the Family Foundation, said.
Cobb points to low SOL scores during the pandemic as a reason why LGBTQ history should be left out of the classroom.
"I think there are also parents who want children to focus on the things that draw children together, not the differences between children," Victoria said.
"I think it's really important for students to recognize each other's differences," a student said.
No matter where you fall on the debate, Campbell encourages people to save room for unity.
"To really have an open mind, to listen, to have an open perspective. We just want to make sure everybody is included."