Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli is facing fire over comments promising to rescind a law requiring schools to include LGBT issues in the curricula made during a campaign stop at a gun range last month.
“You won’t have to deal with it when I’m governor, but we’re not teaching gender ID and sexual orientation to kindergarteners,” he said in a video of the visit obtained by The Gothamist. “We’re not teaching sodomy in sixth grade. And we’re going to roll back the LGBTQ curriculum. It goes too far.”
The former assemblyman’s comments have drawn rebuke from LGBT groups and Democrats, who saw it as a rightward lurch for the Somerset County native.
“Who the hell does Jack Ciattarelli think he is? By equating LGBTQ relationships with ‘sodomy,’ Jack is now Frankenstein’s clone of Marjorie Taylor Greene for New Jersey,” said Garden State Equality Founder Steven Goldstein. “He is a fringe crackpot who operates in a galaxy far, far away from bipartisan human decency.”
Many LGBT issues are considered settled in New Jersey, where polls in past years have found overwhelming support for gay marriage. Ciattarelli, along with all but one Republican serving in the legislature at the time, voted against a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed that bill, though the New Jersey Supreme Court made it the law of the land the following year.
Ciattarelli sought to narrow his criticism from LGBT issues broadly to a law passed last year requiring LGBT issues be included in school curricula.
“I hear from parents across the state — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — who are angry that extremists like Governor Murphy are infringing on their right as parents to educate their children about life’s most personal and intimate topics — and then trying to shame them when they dare speak up,” he said in a statement. “All schools should be promoting diversity, inclusivity, tolerance, and respect for others, but that doesn’t mean pushing explicit subjects in elementary school classrooms.”
The laws requiring schools to teach students about diversity and inclusion, including in relation to gender and sexual orientation, and about the contributions to society made by LGBT individuals won’t go into effect until this fall, though a handful of schools have launched pilot programs.
School boards decide how the former law is implemented in their districts, while the latter applies only to middle and high schools.
Democrats clearly see an opportunity.
“Assemblyman Ciattarelli’s ignorance of the LGBTQ curriculum and his willingness to diminish and demonize the LGBTQ community is exactly why this curriculum is so important —we still have a long way to go when the Republican Party nominates a bigot for governor whose views are this far out of step with New Jersey,” Democratic State Committee LGBTQ Caucus Chair Lauren Albrecht said.
The comments are seen as a rightward lurch from a historically moderate Republican with a mixed record on LGBT issues.
Ciattarelli has previously backed and opposed bills allowing transgender individuals to change the gender noted on their birth certificate, and he voted in favor of a bill banning conversion therapy.
LGBT issues have become increasingly bipartisan in New Jersey over recent years, and Ciattarelli’s statement could turn into a prominent campaign issue in the coming months.
State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City) faced criticism last November after comments seen to disparage transgenderism at a Veterans Day ceremony. Brown immediately distanced himself from the remarks and issued an apology. A few months later, he announced he would not seek another term, though it’s not clear his decision and the criticism were related.
Ciattarelli hasn’t made any such concessions.
“Love is love, and who you love is no business of your Governor. And resources should be made available to students who want to understand themselves as they grow into adults. We should not, however, encourage the abdication of parenting or expect teachers to replace parents,” he said. “Let me be clear, as Governor, nothing we do or teach in our public schools will ever supplant the role and responsibility of parents.”