Huttle: NJ’s LGBT curriculum ‘accurate, inclusive, and respectful’
“Way to go, New Jersey – you change history and now it’s Adam and Steve instead of Adam and Eve.”
“I’m not for it. Either way, how I raise my kids is my business, not the school’s or government’s.”
“It’s so dumb. How about you teach the kids real history?”
These are examples of criticisms facing the new LGBT-inclusive curriculum law in New Jersey. Just recently, Gov. Phil Murphy made New Jersey the second state in the nation to require boards of education to adopt school curriculum that accurately portrays the contributions of persons with disabilities and the LGBT community.
Let’s be clear: This law is not pandering to a specific community and it is not the government intruding on the way that parents should be raising their children. This law ensures that our curriculum will be fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful of the contributions made by disabled persons and the LGBT community.
Our school curriculums ensure that students understand the contributions of Greek philosophers and Roman emperors, so why are our students not educated on the career of Harvey Milk or the activism of Marsha P. Johnson, who was long left out of the narrative surrounding the 1969 Stonewall riots? Likewise, the stories of the disabled community deserve to be heard and remembered; history shouldn’t stop with Helen Keller, her achievements though incredible, are not the sole achievements of the disabled community.
Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” This notion fails to understand the limitations of our understanding of history. History is written by the victors and more often than not, the victors are the people in power – the people with privilege. For so long, marginalized communities were forced to live in the shadows, while there are still countless obstacles for those facing oppression, ensuring fair and equal historical representation is the first of many steps in making sure everyone has a voice.
In 2011, Governor Christie signed my landmark legislation the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” – this law strengthened the procedures for preventing, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying of students at school. This law is one of my greatest achievements and I believe expanding New Jersey’s school curriculum to be more inclusive was the logical next step.
A 2017 online survey by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) found that seventy-nine percent of LGBT students in New Jersey have regularly faced homophobic remarks, with 14 percent hearing such remarks from school staff. Twenty percent had faced physical harassment or assault during the past year. These numbers are alarming, and they made it clear that there is much more work to be done to ensure that all students, regardless of ability, sexual orientation or gender identity, have a safe place to learn and grow.
Studies show that schools with inclusive curriculum have significantly less bullying around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression; this law will take a significant step forward in improving school climate for everyone. We are at a point in our nation’s history where divisiveness and hate feel commonplace. It is my hope that with this legislation we can change our culture and foster new generations of students that understand the importance of tolerance and equality.
So yes, way to go New Jersey, we are teaching our kids real and comprehensive history.
Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, represents the 37th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly. She was one of the primary sponsors of the LGBT curriculum legislation.