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When I was a boy in the mid-1990s, thinking I was probably gay, there wasn’t much to look forward to. This was before “It Gets Better,” back when the number-one word association with “gay” was still “AIDS.”

It goes without saying that there was nothing in my public school curriculum that made me feel good about being gay. No gay characters in books. Nothing about LGBTQ historical figures. Nothing about gay issues in health class.

Today, we often talk about the benefits of students seeing themselves in the curriculum, and there is ample evidence that cultural relevance matters tremendously to many different groups. The absence of that representation was a denial of opportunity for me and the millions of other LBGTQ students like me.

But for as much as we now know about the importance of kids seeing their identities reflected in the curriculum, new research shows that most Americans don’t believe young kids should have access to or be assigned readings or topics with LGBTQ themes.

These beliefs may be misguided, even sometimes based on bigotry, but they are a reality that we need to grapple with as we work to make American schools less harmful places for queer and questioning children.

It is all too easy to write our opponents off as rank bigots. But that won’t help the queer kids in schools today.

After decades of progress, we are entering a darker moment when it comes to LGBTQ freedoms in the U.S. And whether state governments help us or get in our way, we have to focus on those kids, doing what we can to make sure they feel supported, affirmed and loved for whoever they are.

Related: STUDENT VOICE: Middle schooler says LGBTQ+ clubs in schools for queer students are a lifeline

In a recent national survey I co-direct, we found that fewer than half of Americans support elementary school children even having access in schools to books about most LGBT issues, let alone being assigned to read them. Support was tepid among Democrats, just about 50 percent, and dismal among Republicans, fewer than 10 percent. This was among the largest partisan divides on issues we asked about.

At the high school level, Americans mostly supported students having access to these books, but they still opposed them being assigned. And, when we asked more generally about whether children should learn about specific controversial topics in school, LGBT issues came in last place out of 24 listed topics.

The reality is that a substantial majority of Americans have unfavorable views toward LGBTQ issues in the curriculum, especially for young children. It’s not necessarily because they believe grotesque lies about LGBTQ folks being “groomers”; it’s because many of them just feel young kids aren’t ready to learn about these issues (we also found that most Americans opposed the inclusion of many other topics in the elementary curriculum, even those as bland as economic concepts).

And some Americans — undoubtedly egged on by lies about the actual prevalence of these topics in school — think schools have gone too far in trying to address LGBTQ issues.

It is all too easy to write our opponents off as rank bigots. But that won’t help the queer kids in schools today.

In just a couple of decades, the progress on LGBTQ rights has been breathtaking. The most visible symbol has been marriage equality, but cultural representation in books, TV and movies has also been profoundly important. In some states — like my new home state of California — the school curriculum is required to discuss LGBTQ historical figures and provide LGBTQ-inclusive sex education. More queer kids than ever undoubtedly now believe that their identities matter and are valued.

But the backlash to all this progress has been swift and powerful. Progressives were caught off guard as the culture wars turned back to LGBTQ issues.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis led Republicans to enact legislation, dubbed by progressives as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that prohibits instruction on LGBTQ issues in the youngest grades. The law has been interpreted and experienced as stifling curriculum on LGBTQ issues altogether. And LGBTQ teachers in the state have felt the need to hide their identities, or even leave the classroom, because of the law’s reach.

Let’s be clear, the law is disgusting and bigoted, and LGBTQ kids will be harmed by it.

But sadly, our research shows that it’s not out of step with how Americans feel about these issues.

So, what do folks who care about LGBTQ kids do about this sad trend? Until recently, we might have counted on the courts to save us, but now the right-leaning judiciary is likely to make things worse, rolling back rights and enabling anti-gay discrimination.

The solution, for now, is three-pronged.

First, we should continue efforts in blue states to enable an LGBTQ-friendly curriculum. States can follow California and put out standards for age-appropriate inclusion of LGBTQ themes in schools. But better than standards would be actual curricula that schools and districts can adopt, and which show how these issues can be implemented carefully and thoughtfully — even though this won’t solve the problem for the millions of kids in states where these topics will be banned.

Related: In the wake of ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ LGBTQ students won’t be silenced

Second, we should continue to work to address parent and voter concerns about LGBTQ issues in schools. Some of these conversations will be difficult, and some proportion of Americans won’t be swayed.

But just as we moved public opinion on marriage equality, so too can we move public opinion on the idea that all children deserve to see themselves and their identities represented and validated at school.

Third, we will have to lean into nonschool solutions for supporting LGBTQ kids. The media is a huge help here — the importance of diverse representation in the media can hardly be overstated. But supporting local LGBTQ organizations and nonprofits working to provide education and opportunities for queer and questioning youths and their families is also a great way to work around intransigent public policies.

Morgan Polikoff is an associate professor of education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

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