Little Egg Harbor, NJ – Community members gathered outside of the Board of Education meeting at Pinelands Regional Junior High School on February 19th at 4:30 pm to ‘Show the Love’ for LGBTQ+ students and the new curriculum.
A vocal sub-group of community members have voiced their opposition to the LGBTQ+ curriculum in ways that event organizers are concerned could have an unwelcome impact on the young people attending Pinelands.
“We know that while suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people from age 10 -24, that LGBT youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide. We also know that each episode of LGBT victimization – like physical or verbal harassment or abuse – makes it twice as likely for young people to engage in self-harming behavior. And that’s why we are here today. For many young people in our community, getting love and support for who they are can be a matter of life or death. We are all here to say to our LGBTQ+ and questioning students: we love you just as you are,” said Shannon Duffy, one of the event organizers.
The New Jersey law is the second of its kind in the nation and requires local school boards to “adopt only instructional materials [they determine] accurately portray … the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” For example, students could learn about the contribution of key figures in the Civil Rights movement, like Bayard Rustin, and learn that he was gay. Or, they could learn about the law’s namesake, Barbra “Babs” Siperstein who passed away in 2019 and was the first openly transgender person to serve as a member of the Democratic National Committee.
“I had a parent ask me why being gay mattered, how it had any impact on my accomplishments and the choices I make in life. That week at school, I had eight students confide in me about being gay or questioning and some of them spoke about how they couldn’t talk to their parents at home but they were thankful that they knew they could talk to someone here at school. It matters,” said Shari Saks, a teacher at the Junior High.
“We are a tight knit community here in Little Egg, and we stand up for one another. I’m not a parent of a student, I’m not a student, but I’m a neighbor who cares. That’s why I’m here. We want our LGBTQ young people, teachers, and allies to know they are not alone. We wanted to invite everyone to support the children here because their lives matter to us,” said Jody Stewart, Little Egg Harbor resident.