Is New Jersey doing enough to support its LGBTQ community?

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

Geena Buono Founded the Transgender Day of Remembrance, held this week in Asbury Park, to commemorate the lives lost around the world to violence because of gender identity. Emotions in the room ran high, but there was also hope.

“I transitioned many years ago and I’ve also been the victim of harassment and violence and even sexual abuse,” Buono said.

Politics were at the forefront as audience members cheered recommendations released by Gov. Phil Murphy from the Transgender Equality Task Force. It was convened last year to identify where the state can better support the transgender population, from the criminal justice system to housing, employment and education, to name a few. Garden State Equality contributed to the report and the detailed steps it recommends.

“The most important thing that came out of the task force report is the fact that we need to do SOGI data collection. SOGI being Sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Garden State Equality Communications Director Jon Oliveira.

Data is not an exciting talking point, but Oliveira says little to no information exists in any state department.

“We really need to know more information about where trans people are in New Jersey and how many there are so we can best serve them. And just this year, New Jersey reported that hate crimes are on the rise, and LGBTQ people make up a disproportionate amount of hate crimes,” he said.

The report also showed two-thirds of transgender people cited mistreatment by law enforcement. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal responded swiftly, announcing three steps his office would take, including improving law enforcement interactions, a public awareness campaign to help all New Jerseyans better understand anti-discrimination laws, and steps to protect those in the juvenile justice system.

“I have personally seen an uprise in more aggression towards trans people, so I’m hoping more legislation will help,” Buono said.

Inspired by the late Barbara Babs Siperstein, the Department of Health also launched an online service that allows citizens to amend the sex designation on their birth certificate without any other documentation, like a doctor’s exam that was previously required. And while the state continues to tackle the issue, it seems many municipalities are already getting it right. The Human Rights Campaign released an annual report scoring the inclusiveness of local communities.

The report looks at things like non-discrimination employment policies, housing and public accommodations, and city services that support the most vulnerable LGBTQ. Three cities, Princeton, Hoboken and Jersey City received perfect scores of 100. Each one has a police liaison for the LGBTQ community, a major factor in the high score.

“We view this report as a road map for success. It is an annual report that lets folks know at this point in time what laws and policies exist in your area,” said The Human Rights Council Senior Legislative Council Xavier Persad.

“We pride ourselves on offering whether it be transgender health care to employees, or having an inclusive workplace. We try very, very hard to be a model city with regards to how we treat everybody,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

And while many say local and state officials need to push these policies forward in response to President Donald Trump rolling back protections, Fulop says that’s not his motivation.

“I don’t look at it as, if the federal government did more, we would do less. I look at it as saying we’re trying to do the right thing all the time and we’re always gonna try and push more to make people feel comfortable here,” said Fulop.

“As we let our light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others,” said comedian and transgender advocate Julia Scotti.