LGBTQ Questions Included in Two States’ Gubernatorial Debates

By Barbara Simon | September 28, 2021 Photo Credit: ABC7

The two states hosting an election for governor this November featured debates between the major party candidates tonight and included questions on LGBTQ materials in schools and how to protect transgender students. Both Republican candidates raised concerns about “sexually explicit” LGBTQ content in schools.

In Newark, New Jersey, incumbent Governor Phil Murphy and former state assembly member Jack Ciattarelli debated each other for the first time in the campaign.

About 343,000 LGBTQ people live in New Jersey, which is the first state in the nation to require LGBTQ-inclusive teachings in all subject areas. 25% of LGBTQ adults in New Jersey are raising children.

In Alexandria, Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe and former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group Glenn Youngkin debated for the second and final time before Election Day on November 2nd and as Virginians are already early voting.

309,000 LGBTQ people live in Virginia, 40% of whom are LGBTQ people of color and 26% are raising children.

GLAAD and Virginia Equality have compiled research on McAuliffe’s and Youngkin’s LGBTQ records and sent a letter to debate panelists and moderator urging them to ask about issues important to LGBTQ people.

Midway in the hourlong debate, Julie Carey, WRC-TV’s Northern Virginia Bureau Chief, asked McAuliffe (29:14) : “Your campaign website promises you will implement the Virginia Department of Education’s new model policy to protect transgender students. That’s a policy that allows transgender students to use the restroom and locker room that matches their gender identity and requires school employees to address students by their chosen pronoun. But in the last debate you said it should be up to local school districts to be able to create their own policies. So, which should it be: statewide protection or local choice?” 

McAuliffe answered, “I like locals having input obviously on such an important issue, but the state will always issue guidance as we do from the Department of Education. But I have said this before, these children are going through very stressful situations. Why people want to continually demonize children, I just don’t understand. I want every child in Virginia to get a quality education. I put a record billion dollars into education the last time I was governor. No matter the color of your skin or whom you love, I believe you should get a great quality education.”

Virginia’s Department of Education model policy, developed according to Virginia law, states in part: “Every Virginia student, regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, has a right to learn free from discrimination and harassment… All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe, and adequate, so that they can comfortably and fully engage in their school programs and activities. Access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students… When a student asserts that they have a name and/or pronoun affirming their gender identity, school staff should abide by the student’s wishes as to how to address the student. All school employees shall treat all students with respect and dignity.”  

Youngkin responded, “With regard to our kids in schools we are called to love everyone, to love everyone. And I agree with your conclusion Terry, that we should let local school districts actually make these decisions, but we must ask them to include concepts of safety and privacy and respect in the discussion and we must demand that they include parents in this dialogue. What we’ve seen over the last twenty months is our school systems refusing to engage with parents. In fact, in Fairfax County this past week, we watched parents so upset because there was sexually explicit material in the library, they had never seen, it was shocking.”

Youngkin was apparently referring to two people in Fairfax County who last week protested the inclusion of the books Lawn Boy and Gender Queer at high school libraries, criticizing their “homoerotic” content. Both books feature LGBTQ characters and were recently honored by the American Library Association for their appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The Fairfax County Public Schools have removed the books from the libraries and are reviewing them. The author of Lawn Boy says he has received death threats after similar protests in Texas, telling the Washington Post: “If I had a statement, it would be ‘Read the book or sit down.’ I feel like these people are frightened because they’re losing the culture wars.” The publisher of Gender Queer said the book is an important resource for students who identify as genderqueer or nonbinary.

McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

1.2 million Americans identify as nonbinary, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, about 11% of the LGBTQ population, the majority under age 29. The majority of nonbinary adults use queer, bisexual, pansexual, or asexual to describe their sexual orientation. Gallup research shows nearly 16% of all Gen Z Americans (ages 19-24) identify as LGBTQ. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy defended his state’s year-old law requiring LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in public schools. “I’m proud of the fact that LGBTQ+, the real story and history, is being taught.”

Moderator Sade Baderinwa of WABC-TV asked (47:49) Murphy’s challenger, Jack Ciattarelli: “You recently said, ‘we’re not teaching gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten. And we’re not teaching sodomy in the sixth grade.’ Why did you choose that inflammatory word and what does that say about your acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community?”

In July, a video surfaced of Ciattarelli telling voters at a campaign stop that he’s opposed to teaching “gender ID and sexual orientation to kindergartners” and that he’d roll back LGBTQ curriculum requirements because they go “too far.”

Ciattarelli answered, “I’m all about inclusivity,” pausing as laughter rose in the hall, “I’m all about inclusivity and I’m all about teaching that bigotry and bullying is wrong. I’m all about teaching our students that virtues such as tolerance, mutual respect, inclusivity are critical, but I believe there are certain subject matter for our younger students, K-8, that are best left to the kitchen table between a mom, a dad and their child. I would ask the question this way, why does Phil Murphy believe that we should be teaching sexual orientation and gender ID to kindergarteners, why does he believe we should be teaching explicit sex acts to middle school students. I don’t believe that.”

Murphy responded: “A lot going on at your kitchen table,” to cheers and applause. “Using a word which you well know is a dog whistle word, the word sodomy is not taught, and you know exactly what that word inflames. It’s a complete and utter offense to the LGBTQ+ community and anyone who is allied and supports that community. How can you say you are open-minded and celebrate diversity and use a word that is deliberately dog whistle to create another us vs them environment?”

Murphy and Ciattarelli debate for a second and last time on October 12th.

The deadline to register to vote in both New Jersey and Virginia is October 12th.

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