About Garden State Equality

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With more than 150,000 members, Garden State Equality is the state’s largest civil rights organization of any kind – not just the state’s largest organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Since Garden State Equality’s founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted over 200  pro-LGBT laws at the state, county and municipal levels.  Here is a list of many of them - LGBT civil rights laws.  That’s more LGBT civil rights laws enacted in less time than in any other state, ever in American history. And on October 21, 2013, New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to have the freedom to marry for same sex couples. 

Garden State Equality has a deeply engaged grassroots and netroots membership – one with a significant emotional attachment to the organization. And though our budget is infinitesimal compared to our sister organizations in such donor-rich states as New York and California, we do everything possible to maximize every dollar – and to use our lack of bureaucracy to act rapidly, relentlessly and innovatively. Efficiency can breed ingenuity.

The keys to Garden State Equality’s success lay in two organizational philosophies:

First, we have been emphatic about organizing beyond our base, which every civil rights movement must do to succeed.   From its founding in 2004 through today, Garden State Equality has been not an LGBT organization, but rather an organization of LGBT and straight people alike who believe in LGBT civil rights.  About half our membership and several of our top leaders are from outside the LGBT community.

Second, Garden State Equality is indefatigable in practicing both public education in meetings and visible direct action in communities. Some other organizations tend to favor one approach or the other. But we believe the two approaches work hand in hand. It means you’ll not only see Garden State Equality at key meetings at the State House, for instance, but you’ll also see us in the news constantly as the organizer of rallies and other events to counter our anti-equality opposition. The dual approach makes Garden State Equality equally appealing to members attracted to one method of activism or the other.

In fact, Garden State Equality is the only statewide civil rights organization in America ever to be showcased in an Academy Award-winning film. “Freeheld” won the 2008 Oscar for Best Short Documentary.

Our multipronged approach to advocacy has had its dividends.  Among the over 200 LGBT civil rights laws enacted in New Jersey since Garden State Equality’s founding in 2004: America’s strongest laws to combat anti-LGBT discrimination, hate crimes and school bullying, as well as America’s strongest laws protecting the transgender community. In addition, New Jersey is one of only three states, along with California and the District of Columbia, that provides paid family leave to same-sex couples.

Garden State Equality is a national leader for transgender equality.  Among our proudest achievements was the enactment of transgender anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws that passed the state legislature by margins of 102 to 8 and 110 to 10 – unprecedented bipartisan support to protect people based on their gender identity and gender expression.

In January 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued a study ranking New Jersey’s anti-bullying law #1 among the anti-bullying laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And The New York Times calls the law “the nation’s toughest law against bullying and harassment in schools.” Garden State Equality is proud to have been the architect of the law and to have led the historic statewide campaign for its passage. Today, states across America are looking to our Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights as models for their own legislation. To read more about the law and Garden State Equality’s programs for youth and to stop school bullying, click here.

To complement the new anti-bullying law, Garden State Equality has established an Anti-Bullying Helpline. Call 1 (877) NJBULLY. Call if you are a bullied student, or if you are the parent or concerned friend of a bullied student.  Because Garden State Equality was the driving force behind the new law, we know it backwards and forwards – and we will help you as if our lives depended on it.   We crafted the law to help students bullied for any reason, so you do not have to be LGBT to call our Anti-Bullying Hotline.

Garden State Equality’s mission is not only to win fairer laws, but also to win justice for LGBT New Jerseyans facing discrimination, for whom we have won hundreds of successful campaigns.

Some of our campaigns have become so famous, they’ve become part of New Jersey’s cultural history. They include our campaign for the late police officer Laurel Hester, whose partner had been denied death benefits because the couple was gay and could not marry. The couple’s story and Garden State Equality’s year-long fight on their behalf, which ultimately resulted in their winning the benefits, was the subject of the 2008 Academy Award-winning documentary “Freeheld.”

Just days before she died, Lt. Hester recorded this video thanking Garden State Equality:

Other successful and nationally known Garden State Equality campaigns include:

A national leader in the constancy and creativity of its public programming, Garden State Equality produces an astounding number of grassroots and public education programs. Our renowned town meeting series has drawn tens of thousands of New Jerseyans to our town meetings across the state, smashing attendance records in every community. The series has received extensive news coverage across the state, nation and the world.

Our other programs similarly reimagine the possibilities of the LGBT civil rights movement. As legendary as our town meetings have become in New Jersey, we’re a lot more than that. Our “Equality Express” motor home, for instance, travels the state to bring our message of equality to houses of worship, community fairs, shopping malls and anywhere else with a crowd. We don’t merely rely on people coming to our events – we go to theirs. Our dinner series with state legislators, held in members’ homes, is as aggressive as everything else we do. Two-thirds of the entire New Jersey legislature has now attended at least one Garden State Equality legislative dinner or town meeting.

Garden State Equality’s grassroots operation has geographic depth as impressive as that of any other statewide organization. Recognizing that politics is fundamentally local, we have volunteer battalions, deployable upon a moment’s notice, in each of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts. If we need to convince a local official to do the right thing, that official will not only hear from us at the statewide level, but also from the many Garden State Equality members who are the official’s own constituents.

Garden State Equality has developed a path-breaking Caucus program to diversify New Jersey’s LGBT rights movement. Garden State Equality has 13 Caucuses, each of which serves a different demographic community and has a large and active membership. Communities of color and other constituencies have praised Garden State Equality’s Caucus program as a pioneering national model. Here are Garden State Equality’s 13 Caucuses, which you can email by clicking on their respective links:

Garden State Equality African-American Caucus
Garden State Equality Catholic Caucus
Garden State Equality Couples Caucus
Garden State Equality Clergy Caucus
Garden State Equality Corporate and Professional Caucus
Garden State Equality Immigration Caucus
Garden State Equality Labor Caucus
Garden State Equality Latino and Latina Caucus
Garden State Equality People of Faith Caucus
Garden State Equality Real Estate Caucus
Garden State Equality Straight Caucus
Garden State Equality Women’s Caucus
Garden State Equality Youth Caucus

There’s never been a more exciting time for LGBT rights in New Jersey or anywhere else in America. We at Garden State Equality would be honored for you to join our organization, even to volunteer. If the spirit moves you, we would also be grateful for your online contribution.

After all, the person who makes Garden State Equality’s work possible is you.
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© Copyright 2013 Garden State Equality
40 S Fullerton Avenue, Montclair, New Jersey 07042
Garden State Equality is a member of the Equality Federation