“For all people of trans experience. For all people of any experience …” – Dedication in the 2005 film Transamerica
That quote, which rolls in the closing credits of ‘Transamerica’ and includes a thanks to director Duncan Tucker’s family, will always make me think of Babs. To me it’s a reminder of how even with the bright dividing lines between gay and straight, or between trans and cis, we’re all just in some story arc, trying the best we can to be us and be happy. Small thing, right? But I had to learn it.
Babs Casbar Siperstein, who died today before any of us were ready, would have liked that I included a photo of her cheering Hillary Clinton. That’s because I was on the other side; in 2016, she was a Hillary superdelegate, I was a Bernie delegate. My friendship with her was based on coming at things differently, and talking them out over food. I could listen to her for hours; I frequently did.
She was the best Democrat I ever knew, not because she was tribal, but because she had so much faith in that huge, unruly party as an agent for change – even if she had to get it done herself. And she did.
The Babs Siperstein Law (A1718) which went into effect on Friday, makes it infinitely easier for New Jerseyans to have an identifying document that reflects the gender they live every day, which may be different from the one they were ‘born with.’ For the people who need that, it’s vital. And it’s recognition that gender reassignment surgery is not the only way people are transitioning; the law removes the requirement to show medical records of the surgery. It was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy – – after twice being vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
Babs was a skilled advocate, who knew how to work influence both in the Democratic Party and in government. She was respectful but fearless; I’ve watched her work. Early this morning, I exchanged messages with Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Dem Chair and Vice-Chair at DNC. Babs had enormous respect for him. He nominated her to become the first-ever transgender member of the DNC in 2009, after serving with her on the National Stonewall Democrats board, and watched her ascend to the DNC Exec Committee. She was the highest-ranking out transgender person in the Democratic Party’s history. She served DNC for years until she was gracelessly dumped off the DNC by DNC Chair Tom Perez, after she supported Keith Ellison for chair instead of him. Buckley said:
She loved her family, the LGBTQ community, her party but she really loved her New Jersey!
That’s the truth. She made time for a lot of people working for a better New Jersey. She was gracious and generous with me. When I first met Babs, I was a new and fairly clueless straight ally. Babs is only the second out trans person I knew; the first to talk to me about her life. She took me in early, telling me about her life as a man, her deeply-loved late wife, who took Babs for what she was in grace and love, and the source of her political fearlessness.
Our condolences, respect & love for Babs’ partner Dorothy, her children and grandchildren, and sister. We’ve lost a trailblazer in the movement for equality; they’ve lost even more.
Photo credits: Babs & rainbow flag: Facebook. Babs at 2016 Democratic Convention: Medium. Babs with Hillary sign: Blue Jersey.