LGBT in New Jersey: Part II – An empowered community flourishes as discrimination lessens

(Featured image above: Troy Stevenson, former Director of Garden State Equality at a marriage equality rally on the State House steps)

The LGBT community is much like the general population, but with a significant difference: its sexual preference and gender identity which too often results in discrimination. In Part II we look at how an empowered community with help from allies has grown and flourished while reducing discrimination in the U.S., New Jersey, and with particular attention to Jersey City which Saturday held its annual Pride Festival. Post Stonewall the changes have been rapid and astonishing.

The characteristics of of our LGBT community are similar to the general population: rich and poor – urban, suburban and rural – very young to very old – US citizens, documented and undocumented immigrants  – political and apolitical – all colors of the rainbow – employed and unemployed – all faiths – homeless to those in McMansions – those who bully and those who are bullied – access to health care to no access – and much more.

A key difference is sexual preference and gender identity which too often results in discrimination. As Babs Siperstein, Member of the DNC Executive Committee and Director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association, says, “Discrimination caused by ignorance and fear is a tax on human progress.” Discrimination is used against many groups and now promoted by President Trump. Nonetheless the LGBT community through its efforts and with support from allies has reduced anti-gay discrimination substantially. Nonetheless, it has not vanished. A  person from New Brunswick points out that his city’s police force was in of need of cultural training, and there is not enough understanding and prosecution of hate crimes.

In the American colonial period many states had the death penalty for homosexuality. Stonewall riots in 1969 energized the gay rights movement, but it was not until 2003 that the US Supreme Court ruled the Texas sodomy law was unconstitutional. The HIV/AIDS epidemic  starting in 1981 which decimated so many LGBT members emboldened queer people into fierce activism (ActUp) which continued on years later. Then in 2015 the US Supreme Court Court declared that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.

Steve Goldstein

February 2012: Garden State Equality Director Steven Goldstein celebrates the passage of marriage equality in the NJ Senate

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination was amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity in 1991, and in 2006 it prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The unsatisfactory civil unions became available in 2007. After efforts in the legislature failed, marriage equality became the law in October 2013 when Governor Christie conceded defeat in a momentous battle unfolding at the state Supreme Court. Deciminyan has archived speeches, rallies, and legislature votes leading up to our Marriage Equality law here and here.

THE 17TH ANNUAL JERSEY CITY LGBT PRIDE FESTIVAL

At Saturday’s festival in Jersey City attendees remarked on how discrimination there has decreased over the years. One resident commented that when he first came to Jersey City 19 years ago there was only one gay flag on a house, but now they are almost everywhere including many businesses. Neil Abadie says, the city has changed its definition of minorities to include LGBT, and that with less discrimination there are now more opportunities for small LGBT businesses. He adds there are three openly gay candidates running in the November election for the city council, and the city has passed an inclusive LGBT platform in education. An older gay couple who work in Manhattan and used to get services and spend their evenings there are now at home in Jersey City and rely less on NYC. Steven Mabra, an Ecuadorian who moved to Jersey City, says there is no need to cross the Hudson as his neighborhood is gay friendly and open to everyone. You can read about the festival here with 63 photos.

As with any large city there are those less fortunate who need local services. Rich Kiam says they are in the midst of fundraising for a larger LGBT center. He adds Mayor Fulop has been providing abatements for developers of huge buildings but they should include spaces for community center meetings and activities. Although there are many groups here offering help, there is no homeless shelter designed for LGBT. Indeed, there is only one such place in NJ run by Elaine Helms in East Orange where 70% are transgender people. (You can read and shudder at Trump’s directive on transgender people in the military here.)

P.S. The expanding acronym: LGBTQIA
The acronym LGBT is well known: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.
Q is used either as Queer, taking what used to  be a pejorative and embracing it (often fiercely) with pride, or it can stand for Questioning as in youth who are still undecided about their sexual identity and preference.
IA  I refers to intersex used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. (More frequent than you might think), and the lesser used A adds the asexual communities under the umbrella.

Part I of this series provides an overview: NJ Moving Forward and The Trump Administration Moving Backward.

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