LGBTQ, Disability Education Measure Awaits Jersey Governor’s Action

New Jersey Assemblymember Andrew Zwicker speaks to Carol Watchler and Robt Seda-Schreiber after a hearing on a bill that would provide LGBTQ education in schools.
COURTESY OF BAYARD RUSTIN CENTER FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

A new bill proposed in New Jersey’s state legislature would direct the State Board of Education to implement teachings on the political, economic, and social contributions of the LGBTQ community as well as people with disabilities.

At least a dozen politicians sponsored S1569, which, if signed by Governor Phil Murphy, would go into effect for the 2020-21 school year. The material would be taught to middle and high school students.

The bill, which was introduced in February, won easy passage in both the State Assembly and the Senate. It now heads to the desk of the Democratic governor, who has typically been supportive of the LGBTQ community but has not indicated whether he will sign the bill. A spokesperson for Murphy told Gay City News that the governor does not comment on pending legislation.

The measure would mark a major advancement for LGBTQ inclusiveness in schools’ educational curriculum. Even as New Jersey and other states move forward, however, elsewhere legislators have scrambled to keep the gay out of the schools. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas all have laws stipulating restrictions on LGBTQ-related teachings, according to GLSEN, which works to advance inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in educational settings.

Kyla Schuller, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told Gay City News that in an ideal world, legislation wouldn’t be necessary to teach LGBTQ and disability-related subject material.

“But the reality is that disability and LGBT experiences are typically left out of the narrative in schools, and this hurts everyone,” Schuller explained. “To learn about disabled and LGBT history and politics is to know history and politics, period.”

The New Jersey legislation has yielded positive feedback from LGBTQ groups in the state. The New Jersey-based Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, which provides advocacy, education, and a safe space for LGBTQIA people, praised lawmakers for taking action.

“The bill will allow the opportunity for every one of our students to feel and indeed be a part of the entire school experience as every child deserves,” said Robt Seda-Schreiber, the center’s chief activist. “That’s what all our kids need to hear and speak and share in their classrooms, their hallways, and in their greater communities.”

GLSEN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the New Jersey measure.

In October, the state directed the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education to encourage schools to respect every student’s gender identity without requiring that student’s parental consent.

Murphy signed a series of transgender rights bills earlier in the year. Those laws established a transgender equality task force in the state, gave funeral planners the ability to request changes to birth certificates to reflect a person’s gender identity, and removed the requirement for trans people to prove they had surgery before changing their birth certificate.

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