A mayor of a small town on the Jersey Shore has caused a small controversy after speaking out against a recently passed state law that mandated middle and high schools to teach children about the historical contributions made by LGBT people.
Alfonso Cirulli, 60, a retired teacher and school administrator who is the mayor of Barnegat, presented on Tuesday a report he compiled that urged residents to pressure the state’s governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, and its Democratic-controlled state legislature to reverse the law.
And the remarks he made have drawn headlines across the country after they were reported by local outlets, including the Asbury Park Press. Cirulli called the LGBT movement “an affront to almighty God” and said, “The government has no right to teach our kids morality.”
The law, which was passed the state’s legislature in January and signed by Murphy, made New Jersey the second state after California with legislation mandating that students are taught about LGBT history. It also requires similar teaching about people with disabilities. The bill drew wide support from progressives and LGBT rights activists.
But it was opposed by some conservatives, like Cirulli, and religious groups that argued that it should be up to parents to decider how to inform their children about issues around sexuality.
Cirulli who is in his third but nonconsecutive term as the mayor of the seaside town of 21,000, described himself as a Christian and said that he didn’t want New Jersey to become like California. He said he was worried about how the law would be interpreted by teachers.
“They could go to the extremes with this, like bringing in a drag queen to kindergartners,” he said.
He said he was concerned that such teaching could prompt children to have “an identity crisis.”
Cirulli also said he disagreed with the way the legislature passed the law, saying that he wished they had held open forums on the issue.
“They’re just forcing an issue on kids, where I don’t think the state has any interest sticking their nose,” he said. “Everybody has a right to live their lives the way they want — I have friends of all ethnicity and color and persuasion — but they crossed a line with this.”
Barnegat’s mayor is chosen every year by its township committee, which Cirulli has been on for more than a dozen years, he said. None of the town’s four other committee members, or its deputy mayor, John J. Novak, responded to requests for comment.
The town, which is 88 percent white, is located in Ocean County and is just north of Atlantic City. It is a solidly red pocket in what has been a largely blue state — 64 percent of voters cast their ballots for Donald Trump in 2016, the highest in the state.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat who was the prime sponsor of the bill, was harshly critical of Cirulli’s remarks, saying they did not seem well-informed about the bill’s intent.
“To me, he’s leading with ignorance,” she said. “We’re trying to promote tolerance and understanding. We’re teaching out kids. By having our leaders condemn it, it’s sending a very wrong message.”
She said she envisioned lesson plans about important people in the gay rights movement, such as assassinated San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, and landmarks such as the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, saying that inclusive environments reduce bullying.
“We’re at a point where divisiveness and hate feel commonplace,” she said. “With this legislation we can try to change the culture and force the new generation of students that understand the importance of tolerance and equality.”
According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign, more than 40 percent of LGBT youth say they don’t feel accepted by the communities in which they live, and more than a quarter say their biggest problem is not feeling accepted by their family, trouble at school or bullying, or a fear to be out.