A month after a New Jersey priest ordered a charter school using church property to cover up a Keith Haring-inspired pride mural, the school has announced that it will be rolling out an LGBTQ+ inclusive history program this fall.
The new curriculum will be part of a “larger plan for partnership that focuses on promoting diversity and inclusion,” and comes funded by a grant from the Braitmayer Foundation and PSEG Foundation, partnered with Make It Better for Youth.
After objections to the mural by Holy Trinity Church’s pastor, Rev. Paul Revosto, Bergen Arts and Science Charter School painted over the student mural, which featured a rainbow heart and interlocking gender symbol. Since the cover up, however, students at the Hackensack school have continued to express their diverse identities. They posted a sign in the empty space left behind the mural that reads “I’m still here. I’m still queer,” and then, “Nothing anyone can do will change that. Love everyone, love yourself. That’s what will fix the world.” Beneath it are the names of students signed in declaration of their own identities and in solidarity.
The school hopes to be a model for others implementing similar curricular programs in the future, and the curriculum will be developed in conjunction with Garden State Equality, the state’s LGBTQ rights organization, and school leaders seem excited about the changes. Says Nihat Guvercin, CEO of iLearn Schools, which operates the charter school, “The curriculum test-pilot will be an opportunity for us to become a leader in this work.”
During the 2020-2021 school year, New Jersey will require public schools to provide lessons in LGBTQ-inclusive education. By beginning this pilot program a year before legally required, Bergen Arts and Science Charter School is working to mitigate some of the damage done to their student population after covering up the mural. In addition to formally instructing students in LGBTQ history and rights, the school has also brought in Garden State Equality to meet with students and faculty to “talk about the incident and outline steps to ensure that students are supported in the future.”
In a statement to the North Jersey Record, Breanna (who declined to give her last name), a junior who painted the mural, expressed a hopeful vision for the future of her school. She says, “There is still so much work to do on behalf of LGBTQ youth and students, and by building a safe and inclusive environment at our school, I am optimistic that no other student will ever have to go through a similar experience again.”
Students like Breanna and her classmates are leading the way for LGBTQ-inclusion in schools and having their voices and creativity at the forefront is essential in affirming all students. Their message beneath the missing mural is one that Catholics would do well to remember: uncompromising love for self and for all. May all church leaders, from Rev. Prevosto and up, take note.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, July 10, 2019