BAYONNE, NJ - Hours of comments for and against the new LGTBQ curriculum went for naught at the Tuesday Bayonne Board of Education meeting after Board President Maria Valado said the board would not be taking a vote on the matter and would implement the curriculum starting in September because it was mandated by the state.
Earlier this year New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation into law requiring boards of education throughout the state to include instruction that “accurately portrays” the political, economic and social contributions of persons with disabilities and LGBT people.”
The lack of discussion among board members and their quick exit from the auditorium after hours of comment, left many of the participants, particularly those opposed to mandate, shocked and in some cases angry.
A number of people crowded around Gary Maita, the board secretary looking for answers, who was left to saying he had none to provide as his role is solely to run the meeting, not vote on the agenda.
The vast majority of the hundreds of people who attended the meeting, many coming from various religious groups around the city, appeared to be opposed the mandate.
In an ironic twist several people before and after the meeting pointed out that while many of the groups in attendance have in the past had contentious relationships with each other this new policy has become an issue uniting them.
While most of the opponents appeared to avoid the type of anti-LGBT language that that has been used in similar public meetings elsewhere in the state, a few speakers did attempt to connect Biblical condemnation of a gay lifestyle. Most of the opponents said this curriculum at an early age would confuse some younger children.
Including in those speaking out was Mournir Samaan who said that while the law was supposed to highlight the accomplishments of the disabled and other groups as well, the curriculum, designed by an LGBT advocacy group, appears to be focused primarily on the LGBT issues, a sticking point for many religious people.
Albert Aziz argued that the new curriculum pitted parents against their children, since families are teaching one thing at home while the school another. “This should not be forced into the schools,” Aziz said, also criticizing the “political choice” of having an LBGT advocacy group design the curriculum.
Vastly outnumbered, but extremely articulate, were several defenders of the policy, including some teachers, many students, and members of the gay community.
Union representative Gene Woods made the argument that this those in opposition are launching protests similar to those of the past which included opposition to African-Americans being bussed in Boston, and the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s. He pointed out that there has been a precedent for this type of curriculum, including a 2002 requirement that students be required to learn about the Nazi Holocaust.
Defenders of the curriculum, however, claimed that this was not about promoting a lifestyle but educating students to the historical significance of that gay community has made in generation past. They argued that well many of the figures that would be presented in the curriculum are already familiar to classroom lessons and already taught about in school’s traditional curriculum, without sharing the knowledge thay these people were gay.
Kaitlyn Patella, and arts therapist in the district, argued that the curriculum helped protect gay students who may feel isolated and may show they are not alone in their struggle to claim their identities. This curriculum, advocates said, would make it clear that they are not unusual or outcast. The inability to come to this realization, many advocates say, leads to identity crisis depression and even contemplation of suicide.
The curriculum would also benefit straight students, advocates say, by showing that gays are not unusual, and this may reduce the incidence of bullying associated with the gay community in the past.
Opponents of the measure countered this argument, offering that Bayonne’ schools have a counseling program that can provide the curriculum to those that wanted it, allowing students and families who do not want to attend the opt-out.
In her closing remarks Valado said that the board's hands were tied and that if people had an issue with the state mandate, they should approach local legislators to address their concerns.
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