The Culture Wars Descend on the Streets of Mendham

MENDHAM – The “culture wars” surrounding what gets taught in school have been the province of the right.

Conservatives have been the ones – in New Jersey and across the land – going to school board meetings with complaints about books and curriculum in general. Witness the recent uproar about the state’s proposed sex ed programming.

Some of those watching the critics in action are not impressed, nor amused.

“It’s starting here, and frankly, it scares us.”

So says parent Piatip Chattopadhyay, who was one of about 50 to 60 people convening Friday afternoon outside the local high school to support gay rights in particular and inclusion in general.

Demonstrators fanned out to all four corners of the intersection, waving rainbow flags and holding signs with such messages as “You Belong” and “We See You.”

The event coincided with the end of the school day, so there was much traffic leaving school property. Many people beeped their horns.

The borough and surrounding Mendham Township have been trending “purple-ly” of late, but this really isn’t the East Village. And that’s the point demonstrators wanted to make – support for gay rights and inclusion should be a mainstream value.

An immediate impetus for the gathering was a “Day of Silence ” at Mendham High School sponsored by the school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. Held the same day as the rally, the event features students taking a vow of silence through the school day to highlight the harmful effects of discrimination and bullying of gay and transgender students. One student at the protest said about 50 of her fellow high school students took part in the event.

Such events are not all that unusual, but rally organizers said there’s trouble on the horizon. A release about the rally put it this way:

“Students report that some bigoted parents had raised concerns about an innocuous school-wide email publicizing the day of silence event.”

Hence the need for the rally.

Beyond that, participants said they plan to organize and to attend upcoming board meetings to support inclusion.

This is the West Morris Regional High School District, which includes high schools in Mendham and Washington Township. It serves five towns – Mendham Borough, Mendham Township, Chester Borough, Chester Township and Washington Township.

The pending debate here is pretty clear cut. One rally attendee observed that she never thought she would have to worry – in 2022 – about book banning.

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