On May 31, about 150 students from Science Leadership Academy Middle School traveled to Independence Hall, signs and banners in hand. Their mission: a demonstration to raise awareness of the many groups that need to be remembered in our city, in particular, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, middle schoolers, public school students, and more.

They called it Annual Reminder 2.0, inspired by the Annual Reminder, one of the earliest gay-rights demonstrations. Students read original speeches and poems and waved their signs to curious onlookers.

The demonstration was the culmination of a yearlong focus on community issues in our fifth- and sixth-grade classes. Students spent the fall identifying and studying current events that affect their lives, ultimately settling on a list of seven major topics to explore: LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, gender equality, immigration, gun violence, the wealth gap, and climate change.

As a class, we also took time to reflect on what we learned about these big issues and students voted on which topics to study in a deeper, more historical context. After some deliberation, the students decided on the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, a decision that we, as their teachers, were so proud to see.

Together, we worked as a class to interrogate the differences between visible and invisible identities at an individual and group level. We read a variety of middle-grade books that center on LGBTQ+ themes, including Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee, and The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson.

Throughout this past school year, fifth and sixth graders at Science Leadership Academy Middle School chose to student LGBTQ history and current events. Some of the students in the class pose here with their teachers. Front row, from left: Kamyla Aponte, Kandace Wilkinson, Isabella Chen, Lucas Stern, Von Page, Sarah Bower-Grieco (teacher). Back row, from left: Hilary Hamilton (teacher) Eniyah Brown, Matias Barreto, Raven Waring, Marcos Rufino, and Qwazier James.
Via Hilary Hamilton
Throughout this past school year, fifth and sixth graders at Science Leadership Academy Middle School chose to student LGBTQ history and current events. Some of the students in the class pose here with their teachers. Front row, from left: Kamyla Aponte, Kandace Wilkinson, Isabella Chen, Lucas Stern, Von Page, Sarah Bower-Grieco (teacher). Back row, from left: Hilary Hamilton (teacher) Eniyah Brown, Matias Barreto, Raven Waring, Marcos Rufino, and Qwazier James.

At this point, students were eager to understand how we got to where we are in the fight for true equality, so we turned to history.

Through our students’ own research and the help of resources from Facing History, Facing Ourselves, a nonprofit organization that works to engage students in interrogating issues of prejudice, students learned about key events in U.S. history in the fight for LGBTQ rights. These events covered more than 60 events including the establishment of the Mattachine Society, the first known lasting gay-rights group; the Stonewall Riots; the American Psychiatric Association’s changing opinions on homosexuality; Ellen DeGeneres’ televised coming-out; the establishment and eventual repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; the Pulse Nightclub shooting; and the transgender military ban.

In groups, they researched more than 60 historical events and built a giant timeline of LGBTQ+ history to wrap around our cafeteria.

As teachers, we quickly found that our students weren’t satisfied stopping with the past.

Instead, after learning the history, they enthusiastically turned their attention to the future. The second half of their timeline extends past 2019 as students created imagined events of what they hope to see happen. Students wrote essays about these aspirations, detailing why it’s important and what will be necessary to get there.

Some of the things our students hope to see:

  • A documentary focusing on out gay professional athletes by 2022.
  • Every school in America has at least one out LGBTQ+ teacher by 2025.
  • 10 percent of Congress identifies as LGBTQ+ by 2026.
  • The first Marvel movie with a lead superhero who is gay by 2029.
  • Philadelphia’s first gay mayor by 2030.
  • America’s first gay president by 2032.
  • A Queer History Museum in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood by 2035.
  • A national holiday honoring LGBTQ+ acceptance on Matthew Shepard’s birthday by 2053.

During their May 31 demonstration, Lilia and Matias, two sixth graders, described their classmates as “the children of change,” ready to use the power they have (and encourage those with more power) to “remember that minority groups belong everywhere. They belong.”

Jerriko and Lily, two fifth graders explained: “No race, gender, or any aspect of someone’s identity should be a problem and we hope you will keep this in mind throughout your life. Let this be your reminder.”

Through this project, our students showed that when they have the opportunity to learn about the past, even when it’s painful, they can plan an incredible future.

Hilary Hamilton and Sarah Bower-Grieco teach together at Science Leadership Academy Middle School.