NJEA, ACLU of New Jersey, and Garden State Equality Universally Condemn Trustee's Bigoted Comments
Hackensack, NJ — Today, a diverse group of community and faith leaders, local community groups, and statewide organizations issued an open letter calling on the Hackensack City Council and Mayor to pass a resolution urging Board of Education Trustee Frances Cogelja to resign at tomorrow’s City Council Meeting, set to begin at 8PM at Hackensack City Hall.
Trustee Cogelja has received widespread criticism because of bigoted comments calling New Jersey’s LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum law “repugnant.” Garden State Equality is mobilizing its local membership to attend tomorrow evening’s City Council meeting and urge councilors to approve the resolution.
The open letter’s issuance follows strong condemnation from local elected officials representing Bergen County, including County Executive Jim Tedesco, Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle—who was the primary sponsor and author of the bill—have all called for her immediate resignation.
Additionally, Governor Phil Murphy, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez have all condemned Trustee Cogelja’s comments.
The text of the open letter is included below.
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Monday, June 24, 2019
An open letter to Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse, Hackensack Deputy Mayors Kathleen Canestrino and David Sims, Hackensack Councilmembers Leo Battaglia and Stephanie Von Rudenborg, and the Hackensack Board of Education.
RE: Condemnation of Anti-LGBTQ emails from Hackensack BOE Trustee Frances Cogelja
We, the undersigned faith leaders, community organizations, and individuals representing the rich diversity of Hackensack, stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ community and strongly condemn the homophobic comments made by Hackensack Board of Education Trustee Frances Cogelja. She is unfit to serve her constituents, faithfully implement New Jersey’s LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum Law, or protect LGBTQ-identified students. We are urging you to pass a resolution calling for her resignation.
In her emails to the Acting Superintendent of Hackensack Public Schools earlier this year regarding the implementation of New Jersey’s law requiring the inclusion of LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum in middle and high schools, Trustee Cogelja called the law “repugnant” and expressed great disdain for LGBTQ people along with their contributions to our society.
Our city, county, and state have long-served as leaders for compassion, diversity, and inclusion. Her comments do not represent our community and stand in contrast to our values.
Based on the gravity of her comments—which were condemned by Governor Phil Murphy, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Valerie Vaneri Huttle, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, and The Star-Ledger Editorial Board—Trustee Cogelja can no longer effectively represent the students, parents, and educators she was elected to serve.
Furthermore, as evidenced by the more than 1,000 individuals who attended and spoke at the Board of Education meeting on June 17 and/or signed a petition calling for her resignation, the community has justifiably lost confidence in her ability to perform her duties as a Trustee of the Hackensack Board of Education in an unbiased way.
Hackensack’s students and school staff deserve Trustees who uphold the dignity of the office and possess an understanding that every person deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their race, creed, ethnicity, national origin, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Mrs. Cogelja’s disparaging comments and personal views defy her oath of office and threaten the credibility of the Hackensack Board of Education as a whole. Silence on this issue sends a message to our students, educators, and the community at large that they, too, can engage in homophobic and discriminatory behavior without consequence.
It is our hope that the public outrage surrounding Mrs. Cogelja’s comments can start a real conversation about how we can better promote inclusion and equality in Hackensack. To this end, we urge you to call for the immediate resignation of Frances Cogelja from the Hackensack Board of Education and to issue an official statement of condemnation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rev. Carolyn Davis, Hackensack
Former Assemblyman Tim Eustace
Rev. Nathan S. Busker, Senior Pastor, Ponds Reformed Church, Oakland
Minister David M. Horst, Central Unitarian Church, Paramus
Anthony Torres, Central Unitarian Church, Paramus
Ray Welsh, Manager, Buddies of NJ, Inc.
ACLU of New Jersey
Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice
For Hackensack’s Future
Garden State Equality
Glen Rock After the March
Indivisible NJ 5th District
Mahwah After the March
NAACP (Bergen County Chapter)
New Jersey Citizen Action
New Jersey Education Association
Ridgewood JOLT (Join Organize Lead Teach)
Teaneck Women Together
The WorkGroup of Hackensack
Women for Progress