BARNEGAT – Barnegat Mayor Alfonso Cirulli has taken up a crusade against teaching LGBTQ history in local schools on behalf of God.
At the Township Committee meeting on Aug. 6, Mayor Cirulli took up nearly 20 minutes during his mayoral report to inform the community of new legislation that requires the inclusion of LGBTQ history into the curriculum, something he says is “an affront to almighty God.”
“Sometimes laws are introduced with the best intentions but sometimes they go overboard…from my observation, we’ve crossed over the line into absurdity,” Mayor Cirulli began.
The legislation Cirulli is referring to is S1569, which Governor Murphy signed into law on January 31, 2019. The bill requires school districts to “include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
The law would take effect during the 2020-2021 school year.
Cirulli spoke out as vehemently against this law, taking it upon himself to reach out to local school administrators and church officials to inform them of what it meant, calling it his “mayoral duty.”
“There is no hate or bigotry intended here…but no group has a right to force others to comply with their beliefs,” stated Cirulli. This is a point that many residents used against Cirulli during public comment, claiming he was using the dais as a pulpit to preach religious ideologies. Every Township Committee meeting begins with a prayer by a local faith leader.
Cirulli continued, stating that the bill would violate the rights of parents and “indoctrinate” the children.
“The government has no right to teach our kids morality,” Cirulli said.
As part of the legislation, all schools must teach this curriculum and students cannot opt out; the reason being that LGBTQ individuals have contributed to the nation’s history in the same way as women, people of color and immigrants.
To this Mayor Cirulli protested further, claiming that he believes sexual preference to be a chosen mindset.
“What does a personal sexual preference have to do with anything and whose business is it anyway?” he added.
Cirulli likened the “affront” to the legalization of same-sex marriage, stating that God would hold politicians accountable for passing such “dangerous” progressive laws, “as well as those that follow your edicts.”
He also drew attention to the transgender community, stating “There is a difference between male and female.”
“This political movement is an affront to almighty God with the intent of trying to completely eradicate God’s law…the Bible tells us that they will try but not succeed, and pay the eternal price for their rebellion,” Cirulli said.
Although Cirulli prefaced his religious comments as not representative of the entire committee, other committee members spoke up in agreement with Cirulli, such as Deputy Mayor John Novak.
“Whether or not I’m against the law is irrelevant, but I’m against it,” said Novak. “If you’re going to teach history, teach all of history…don’t pick and choose.”
Once Cirulli’s comments had finished, a few residents were eager to voice their own opinions on the matter during public comment.
Briget Nunn, a Barnegat resident and licensed mental health clinician in NJ, began by saying she felt like she was in church rather than a public forum.
“I unequivocally do not agree with what just occurred,” she said.
Nunn presented her argument as this: what is the difference between 2+2=4 and 2+2=5?
“2+2=4 is a fact, its empirically evidenced…2+2=5 is a belief,” she explained. “There’s evidence and there’s fact and there’s belief.”
To Nunn, Cirulli’s comments were representing a more “2+2=5” logic, which she said had no place in a public forum.
“If we have early intervention with youth, we can prevent long term trauma exposure,” said Nunn. “I understand that everyone is entitled to their belief and religious ideas…but what I have a problem with is when you bring it into a public forum and you condemn anyone else,” that doesn’t agree.
“If we don’t allow people of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions, creed, no matter what, the opportunity to have an identity, then we’re doing a disservice,” Nunn added.
Following Nunn’s comments was Peggy Houle, a Democrat running for a three-year term on the Barnegat Township Committee.
“You are misusing and abusing your power…you took time out of this public forum to espouse your personal beliefs,” said Houle. Houle preferred the term “biased” over Cirulli’s claim that his speech was “informative.”
Despite a few strongly-worded responses from residents against Cirulli, there were also a few who applauded his lecture.
“We should as a community be aware and you’ve used this platform to increase that awareness,” said one resident. He noted that as an African-American who has a daughter with disabilities, he knows what discrimination feels like and that “this is not that.”
Joshua Armstong, pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church, added, “As parents, we should have a choice on what our children learn…it’s complicated.”
What began as a mayoral report-turned-sermon, culminated as a debate on where to draw the line between parental and administrative intervention in a child’s learning curve.
According to Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group that will help determine the curriculum dictated in S1569, “You cannot opt out of LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum just like you cannot opt out of science or black history simply because of ill-informed or close-minded personal beliefs…LGBTQ history is a part of American history, and to hide or misrepresent who, how, and why we are here today means students would otherwise be learning fiction.”
The day following the meeting, Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain released a statement after he was approached by numerous members of the community with concerns about Cirulli’s statements.
“The Barnegat Police Department is an agency committed to our core values which include fairness, empathy, and respect. The members of this agency go out every day with the conscious intent and conviction to protect the constitutional rights of all of the people with whom we come into contact and to instill in them the confidence that we will be there to help them when they need us. This commitment is absolute and unwavering, and applies to everyone.
“As someone who grew up here and has had the privilege of working here for the last 25 years, I know that this town is at its best when we work together and support each other,” read the statement.