New Jersey is one of four states to pass a law requiring public schools to teach an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum. The state passed the law in early 2019.
The LGBTQ+ history curriculum is now being piloted in 12 public school districts across the Garden State, including Newark, Asbury Park, and Morristown. The curriculum will go into effect statewide at the start of the next school year in September.
Two nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, Garden State Equality and Make It Better for Youth, developed the full curriculum with a team of New Jersey educators.
“Developing curriculum for any topic is incredibly resource intensive, so we have designed a full curriculum that we’re going to continue to expand, and we’re going to get it to every public school in New Jersey that wants it completely free,” Jon Oliveira, director of communications at Garden State Equality, told NBC OUT.
Unlike previous states, New Jersey’s law proponents were proactive in creating a robust and usable curriculum as early on as possible. By contrast, California passed a similar law in 2011 but didn’t approve LGBTQ+-inclusive textbooks until 2017.
The New Jersey law allows each school district in New Jersey to choose their own curriculum materials and lesson plans. Oliveira says his organization’s goal is to ensure an “LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum has wide adoption across the state.”
The curriculum includes lessons about famous LGBTQ+ figures and their contributions to U.S. history, like Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin. It also includes world language lessons on gender-neutral pronouns, biology lessons on sex and gender diversity and creative writing lessons on how to treat LGBTQ+ characters in fiction.
Many of the educators who helped develop the curriculum are LGBTQ+ themselves.
Shannon Cuttle, first vice president of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education and the first elected official in the state to openly identify as non-binary, said this type of curriculum could have changed their life as a young student.
“Our curriculum and our classrooms should be mirrors and windows for our diverse community,” Cuttle said. “I didn’t have representation when I was in school. Curriculum like this would have been life-changing for me”
Colorado and Illinois also passed laws requiring LGBTQ+ history in 2019. Illinois’s law goes into effect in July 2020.