Barnegat Mayor’s Views Go Viral Following Comments Over LGBTQ Curriculum

By Eric Englund | Aug 14, 2019
SandPaper File Photo Mayor Alfonso Cirulli being sworn into office in January.

Barnegat — The final months of Barnegat Township Mayor Alfonso Cirulli’s term could be quite tumultous, following a recent township committee meeting where he denounced upcoming changes in the New Jersey schools curriculum that will require all districts on the high school and middle school levels to instruct students on the political, economic and social contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Cirulli, who was chosen mayor for 2019 in January, is taking heat from people who say he was misusing his mayor’s seat to espouse religious views and quote Bible verses. Stating that his views were his own and not of the committee, the mayor said state and federal governments “have no right to interfere with someone’s religious upbringing.”

“What I really dislike is that people can’t opt out of this program,” said Cirulli, a retired assistant principal of Pinelands Regional High School. “This is nothing but forced indoctrination from the LGBT community.”

Cirulli said the reason students can’t opt out is that it will be part of the social studies curriculum and will show how LGBTQ has contributed to history the same way that women, people of color and immigrants have.

“Don’t confuse a sexual mindset with racial or ethnic discrimination,” he said. “There is no comparison with racial or ethnic discrimination, there is no comparison.”

But as Cirulli continued to talk, he began to employ biblical overtones, and said the LGBTQ community “was out to crush anyone who does not embrace their lifestyle.”

“For people of faith, this is an affront to almighty God, and they are trying to eradicate God’s law and the foundation this country was built on,” he said. “The Bible tells us they will try and but not succeed and they will pay an eternal price for their rebellion. For politicians passing unrighteous laws, you will be held accountable. And those who support those politicians, you also will be held accountable.”

The Barnegat mayor ended his presentation with a call for “all God-fearing people to organize,” saying the “future of the nation is at stake.”

“We have less than one year to get this changed,” said Cirulli. “I will be initiating petitions, reaching out to our state legislators, as well as other mayors, faith-based groups and family counselors.”

During the public portion of the meeting, resident Bridget Nunn, a licensed mental health clinician, said Cirulli was using a public forum to “make us feel like we were in church and being condemned for not sharing your opinion.”

“Transgender people are more likely to die by homicide or suicide because small-minded people judge from a belief system instead of fact,” she said.

When she said Cirulli sounded as if he disliked gay people, the mayor said sexual orientation is a personal choice, but said it should not be forced on those who do not embrace that lifestyle.

“You should not use your public platform to espouse your beliefs,” said resident Peg Houle. “You’re not supposed to be up there preaching and taking time away from people who want to speak.”

“You think your speaking dais is a pulpit,” said resident Marianne Clemente. “You are not supposed to bring religion into this. At other times I have heard you mention Jesus in your speeches, and that is totally inappropriate. We have a separation of church and state. Damn it, adhere to it.”

Cirulli’s comments went viral quickly on social media and were picked up by Philadelphia TV news stations and CNN.

One Barnegat resident, Carrie Diona, started an online drive to demand that Cirulli resign.

“Separation of church and state is exactly what an elected official agrees to upon being sworn into office,” said Diona. “What happened at the meeting is an example of bigotry. When I ran for township committee, I sought to unify Barnegat, but the mayor is dividing us.”

She said Cirulli and other opponents of the curriculum should look at it first before making “irresponsible remarks.”

“If your child should happen to be gay, this education might just be the difference between their life and death,” she said. “The suicide rate amongst teen LGBTQ youth is alarming high, and bullying is right there with it. If you feel the way he does about this, then most of your LGBTQ friends don’t want to be your fake friend so you can say you know someone who’s gay, yet act the opposite of an ally. I urge you to call Barnegat Township Committee members and demand he be removed from office just as he makes demands.”

Police Chief Keith Germain said that he had been personally approached by members of the community with concerns and questions regarding statements made by Cirulli and said the 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 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,” he said. “This commitment is absolute and unwavering. I know that this town is at its best when we work together and support each other.”

Barnegat School District Superintendent Brian Latwis said that while he has not yet been provided specifics on how the curriculum will be implemented, the district “will do whatever it can to navigate challenges and difficult situations with sensitivity to all members of this Barnegat family.”

“Our vision is to provide an amazing complete and appropriate educational experience for all students,” he said. “Students are all different, and each requires a different level of support, different level of academic rigor and different levels of social and emotional support. We are all members of one very special Barnegat family, and in this family, we support each others’ successes, and we pick each other up when we struggle.”

Jon Oliveira, communications director for Garden State Equality, said 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.”

“It is deeply troubling that Barnegat’s mayor is opposed to building an inclusive and affirming environment for LGBTQ youth, especially considering that Garden State Equality worked so closely with the school district to successfully implement transgender student guidance last year,” aid Oliveira. “Moreover, the mayor’s views are in stark contrast to educators within the district, two of whom are contributing to our curriculum development.”

Cirulli said he is not surprised by the negative backlash, and expects it to continue when the committee meets again on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

“We’ll probably have a ton of people from out of town,” he said.

Concerning church and state, he said “(you) can shoot a lot of holes through what people say.

“As a citizen, I have a right to express my beliefs,” he said. “That’s all I’m doing. You don’t have to believe the way I do. I’m just doing what I feel is within my rights.”

— Eric Englund

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