Pushing back on requirement that LGBT history be taught in schools

With six months to go before New Jersey schools must have a curriculum in place, opponents continue to push back against a requirement that middle and high school students be taught about the historic contributions people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Among the opponents is a Republic lawmaker from Bergen County who says he is introducing a bill that would give parents the option of having their kids opt out of the curriculum.

“This is simply a matter of choice and tolerance,” said the lawmaker, Robert Auth, in an interview with NJ.com. “Give parents a choice about how and what their children are being educated.”

The LGBT curriculum is slated to begin in all New Jersey schools in September, at the start of the next school year. It’s already running as a pilot in a dozen districts.

Authorized under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy a year ago, it requires that school boards “adopt inclusive instructional materials that portray the cultural and economic diversity of society including the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, where appropriate.”

But some parent groups have voiced their opposition, saying the curriculum infringes on their First Amendment rights and religious freedoms. A contingent of opponents was on hand to protest the requirement at a state Board of Education meeting a month ago.

“What they’re doing is they’re introducing an alternate lifestyle,” said Alfonso Cirulli, a councilman in Barnegat Township who was among the protestors. “Now once you, the way this is worded, it’s opening Pandora’s box.”

“You have this now put within the state curriculum for students to not simply learn about, but to adopt as their own,” said John Hanna of Ramsey.

Proponents of the curriculum said the opponents are mistaken about the intent of the requirement.

“This is not about teaching young people to be LGBTQ,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality. “This is about teaching social, political and economic contributions from the LGBTQ community.”

“In many cases, young people will be learning about historical figures that they already know, that they just didn’t know were LGBTQ,” he added. “So it’s about representing a more fuller history and insuring that, especially young, LGBTQ people know they exist in the world, outside of the classroom.”

Auth’s legislation would allow parents and guardians to remove students without penalty from any class, program or activity they feel “questions, violates, or conflicts with the parent or guardian’s belief or practice regarding sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, conscience, ethics, morality, or religion.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle is the Bergen County Democrat who sponsored the inclusive curriculum law.

“Studies show that schools with inclusive curriculum have significantly less bullying around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the intent of Assemblyman Auth’s legislation to permit parents to exempt their children from lessons that they consider to be ‘harmful’ is rooted in a lack of understanding about the benefits of inclusive curriculum.”

The new curriculum is still being developed by the school boards in each district.