Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced the signing of Executive Order No. 361, which establishes the Advisory Commission on Advancing LGBTQIA+ Youth Equity and Inclusion in Schools. The commission will build on the administration’s efforts to support LGBTQIA+ youth and ensure New Jersey schools provide a safe, supportive and equitable learning environment for all students.

The commission is meant to help the New Jersey Department of Education address the many challenges that LGBTQIA+ youth face in schools – including harassment and bullying – and their greater risk for mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

“Providing for the well-being of New Jersey’s young people is not a responsibility I take lightly. In order to deliver a top-notch education to our students, we must ensure our schools serve as a welcoming environment for all learners,” Murphy said. “Now more than ever – while we are observing a nationwide uptick in hatred and bigotry – it is critical to convene experts to inform our approach to uplifting our LGBTQIA+ youth. All children in New Jersey deserve to feel safe and respected in the classroom.”

“I am deeply committed to the values of equity, inclusion, and respect for all students,” said Acting Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer. “This commission embodies these principles by advancing LGBTQIA+ equity in our schools. We reaffirm our dedication to fostering a learning environment where diversity is celebrated by ensuring that every student, regardless of their identity, feels safe, supported, and valued by prioritizing curriculum inclusivity and professional development for educators.”

The commission will support the New Jersey Department of Education’s efforts to advance LGBTQIA+ equity in schools by reviewing educational policies, recommending best practices for creating inclusive environments and advising on strategies to support the mental health and well-being of LGBTQIA+ students. The commission will also advise on curriculum inclusivity and professional development for educators.

The commission will consist of 20 to 25 members. Five of the members will be Cabinet members or their designees, including the commissioners of Education, Children and Families, Health, Human Services and the attorney general.

The executive director of the commission will be Kate Okeson, who is a New Jersey educator and longtime advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. She is the co-founder and director of Make it Better for Youth, an organization that addresses the social and educational outcomes of LGBTQIA+ youth. Her experience leading an organization focused on educator-to-educator initiatives, including the development of an LGBTQIA+ inclusive curriculum, will serve her well in directing the commission.

“New Jersey is delivering on its promise to all students in our public schools by assembling this strong and committed group of advocates and state leaders. I’m honored to be part of the team at the national forefront of realizing inclusive and affirming schools, and ensuring positive outcomes for our LGBTQIA+ youth,” Okeson said.

To view Executive Order No. 361, click here.