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Sean DiGiovanna

SOMERSET, New Jersey, October 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A pro-LGBT high school social studies teacher, who helped run his school’s Gay Straight Alliance and had advocated for introducing students to cartoon pornography in class, was arrested and charged in New Jersey this month for sending a student “sexually-explicit” images of himself.

Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson announced on Facebook that Sean DiGiovanna, 50, was arrested October 10 and charged with endangering the welfare of a child as well as a count promoting obscene material to a child under 18. He was jailed pending a detention hearing. 

According to the statement, DiGiovanna, a teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School, sent sexually-explicit images of himself to an underage student. The victim also reported that DiGiovanna sent him text messages soliciting a sexual relationship. Forensic examination of DiGiovanna’s phone revealed the sexually-explicit images and text conversations reported by the victim.

DiGiovanna helped run the Gay Straight Alliance on the high school campus. He received a salary in excess of $86,000. 

DiGiovanna has been an advocate for LGBTQ causes for a number of years. A June 2018 YouTube video shows DiGiovanna addressing the local school board and advocating for the use of “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” in high school classes.

Author Alison Bechdel, according to the Family Policy Alliance of Colorado, said of her 2018 novelized graphic memoir, “(I)t’s all about the power of images … I can understand why people wouldn’t want their children to accidentally think this was a funny comic book and pick it up and see pictures of people having sex … drawings are very seductive and attention catching.”  

Celebrated in LGBTQ circles, the 2006 book recounts in 240 pages Bechdel’s Catholic childhood and adolescence, including bouts of lesbian sex and masturbation. Suicide, dysfunctional family life, sexual orientation, and emotional abuse are among the themes in the book. Bechdel’s father was a teacher and part-time funeral undertaker who had homosexual relationships while in the military and afterward with high school students. Soon after his wife requested a divorce, the elder Bechdel was killed when he stepped into the path of a delivery truck in 1980. The book has been translated into French and German and has been transformed into a stage play.

In the video of the school board meeting, DiGiovanna identifies himself as gay and an LGBTQ activist for 10 years. Referring to “Fun Home,” DiGiovanna claimed that his students found that the book was a “very positive thing for them to read, a very affirming thing for them to read.” He dismissed parents’ fears that the book could be harmful to students under 18. 

“I appreciate that people are maybe for diversity but not for this book. I do hear a lot of people saying things like ‘pushing an agenda.’ I want the board to know that I know and my students know what that really means. The only agenda that we should be pushing is what’s best for our students. What’s best for our students is to understand is the fullness of what people have to go through and what all our students have to go through, including LGBT students,” DiGiovanni said at the time to the applause of the board.

At the board meeting last year, two parents spoke out about the graphic novel, citing their objections to some of the images in it. Parents sought to have the book replaced with another. TAPinto quoted a social media post by a concerned parent:

“I am all for inclusion and diversity. I have not read the book. The pictures in the book I have seen from the other forum are XXX-rated level. That is not acceptable for children under 18 not to mention there are siblings much younger at home who can be exposed to these images involuntarily. This should be a book for selective reading for whom are open to it but not for a book in the curriculum that every 12th grade student must read in the English class curriculum.  Aren’t there other age appropriate great books that can promote the same value?”

Another wrote: “Those students that are interested can read this on their own time. It is not about banning books — it is about not teaching porn in school! If this book stays on the list, will we be adding Playboy and Hustler (or whatever is the current day version of these) to the reading list as well?”

School superintendent Elizabeth Jewett dismissed parents’ concerns, saying, “We chose Fun Home to advance our goals for thoughtful, contextualized literary reading and to expand the LGBTQ voices in our curriculum.”

The concerns raised recently by some people have been leveled at the novel’s images of sexual intimacy. “We acknowledge that a few such images appear in the novel, but we do not feel their presence in any way diminishes the literary quality of the work,” she said. “Thumbing through the novel and pointing to an image or two misses the context in which these images are presented.”

Shawn Hyland of Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey released a statement on the group’s website, stating: “DiGiovanna’s efforts to distribute pornography were not limited to school-approved textbooks and classroom hours.” 

“Before physically assaulting children, pedophiles engage in a process called grooming. They gain the child’s trust, exploit their natural curiosity about sex by eliciting sexually explicit conversations, and generally wear down the child’s natural resistance to sexual contact often by sharing obscene sexual images,” he added.

Despite DiGiovanna’s claims that pornography is harmless, Hyland asserted that pornography is “harmful to the brains of all minors who view it often. Pornography use has the potential to negatively impact adolescents’ ‘sexual risk taking, sexual functioning, body image, sexual objectification and sexual aggression,’ and can be just as addictive and harmful as drugs.”

In a statement, Hyland said the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education “has ignored red flags all along the way in this situation. They have discounted for over a year the grave concerns Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey has been sharing with them, and they have turned a blind eye to concerned parents.”

When New Jersey’s governor and legislature approved new LGBT education mandates earlier this year, Hyland said, schools see an “open invitation to graphic and explicit sexual content like Fun Home. This mandate also erodes parents’ ability to protect their children by denying them the right to opt their children out.”