Since Garden State Equality’s founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 213 LGBT civil rights laws at the state, county and municipal levels. That’s more LGBT civil rights laws enacted in less time than in any other state, ever in American history. And in February 2012, New Jersey became the third state in American history to pass a marriage equality bill under a Governor opposed to marriage equality. Our Governor pressured legislators to vote against the marriage equality bill right up until the final moment of the final vote.
But we prevailed in the legislature as we have time and again. 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 infintesimal 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.
In fact, our marriage equality bill passed in 2012 with dramatically more legislative support than during the last vote in 2010. The 24 Senators who voted yes in 2012 represented a 70 percent increase over the 14 Senators who voted yes in 2010. Now our sights are on overriding the Governor’s veto. We have until the end of the legislative session – January 2014 – to win that override.
Pursuing all roads to justice, we are also the lead plaintiff in the marriage equality lawsuit Garden State Equality v. Dow. We are proudly represented by Lambda Legal and Gibbons, one of the country’s leading law firms.
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 213 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.
But New Jersey has a way to go. Since New Jersey’s civil union law took effect in February 2007, many employers across New Jersey have refused to recognize civil unions as equal to marriage, and therefore do not grant equal health benefits to partners of employees. Employers and hospitals say that if the legislature intended for the civil union law to be the same as marriage, the legislature would have used the same name.
Thus too many same-sex couples in New Jersey still go without adequate health insurance – a horror in this economy. And because of the real-world disparity between civil unions and marriage, some hospitals do not allow civil union partners to make medical decisions for one another, or even to visit one another in the emergency room. To read more about the civil union law and how it falls short of real marriage equality, click here to access our web page on marriage equality.
Though Garden State Equality may best be known as an organization fighting for marriage equality, we fight hard for all civil rights for LGBT people. The reason marriage equality appears to be front and center for Garden State Equality is that New Jersey already leads the country on every other LGBT civil rights issue.
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 Hotline. 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:
- Our campaign against teacher Viki Knox, who posted vicious anti-LGBT hatred on Facebook and, according to students, in the classroom as well;
- Our campaign on behalf of teacher Lily McBeth, whose school district tried to keep out of the classroom because she is transgender;
- Our campaign on behalf of high school student Andre Jackson, whose yearbook photo was removed by the school because the photo featured Andre kissing his boyfriend;
- Our campaign on behalf of Bob Angelini, a theater director at Ocean Township High School who faced resistance in producing “The Laramie Project” because it had an LGBT theme.
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 pathbreaking 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.