Garden State Equality is New Jersey’s statewide advocacy and education organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
GSE, in collaboration with community partners, led efforts to ensure nondiscrimination for transgender and gender nonconforming people in NJ, pass the most comprehensive anti-bullying law in the country, end sexual orientation and gender identity/expression change efforts in NJ (sometimes called conversion therapy), and bring marriage equality to the Garden State.
In this post-marriage environment, our main focuses are youth, transgender people, and seniors, and our work on those issues is informed by racial, economic, and disability justice concerns. GSE is working on campaigns to address safe environments for youth, improvement of health services that meet LGBT community needs, and respectful treatment of seniors. Beyond that, GSE supports NJ’s activist community by bringing an LGBT lens to the shared struggle for justice.
Teach and Affirm and other youth issues
With a program called Teach and Affirm Students in New Jersey, GSE and community partners—North Jersey Pride, GLSEN Central New Jersey, HiTOPS, Spectrum Diversity, the Innisfree Foundation, New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, and ACLU-NJ—plan to empower schools to be safe and affirming learning spaces for all students, including LGBT students, students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.
Bullying is a symptom of school climates that aren’t open to diversity. GSE and partners are asking that schools show their commitment to the kinds of policies and outcomes that, research shows, make safe and inclusive learning environments where bullying has no place. GSE and partners will measure schools based on a wide variety of outcomes, including, but not limited to whether they have affinity groups, such as GSAs (Gay Straight Alliances, or as they’re increasingly called, Gender Sexuality Alliances), where minority students and allies can provide one another social support and advocacy opportunities; whether the schools have health curricula that is inclusive and affirming of LGBT persons and persons with disabilities; and whether schools have dress codes that allow for transgender and other gender nonconforming students to express themselves. (A full list of the outcomes can be seen at teachandaffirm.com).
GSE and partners are engaging in concerted outreach to schools. If schools think they already meet the outcomes, the schools will be lauded on the Teach and Affirm website. If schools feel as though they need help in meeting the outcomes, GSE and partners will provide extensive assistance to ensure that the schools can eventually be lauded.
GSE is also tackling issues integral to bullying, such as the “school-to-prison” pipeline, where punitive school policies push students out of schools and into incarceration. GSE is studying policies promulgated by NJ’s Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) that regard sensitivity to LGBT residents of JJC establishments, to see where GSE’s advocacy is needed, and how to better project LGBT youth from the depredations of our juvenile justice infrastructure.
Underscoring Garden State Equality’s commitment to the universal safety and dignity of students, our Anti-Bullying Helpline provides help to people who need to navigate the process for filing a Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) complaint under NJ’s ABBR. To contact our Anti-Bullying Helpline, call 1 (877) NJBULLY. You may call whether you are a bullied student, or the parent or concerned friend of a bullied student.
Map and Expand
Garden State Equality and community partners are taking on one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time: making sure health services actually meet the needs of LGBT people.
LGBT people need doctors, therapists, and other direct services like anybody else. Our health needs are an everyday part of our lives—and we’re not equal until we can be sure that when we go to a provider, that professional is sure to say the right things to us, ask the right questions, and provide us the comfort and care we need. LGBT organizations are forever putting together lists of LGBT sensitive providers—but we shouldn’t need to find our doctors on special lists.
With the Map and Expand LGBT Health Services in New Jersey project, we’re going to find the health service providers who treat us with the most respect, and literally map out where they are in the state. We’re going to get in touch with all of them, and—doctors, therapists, other direct service providers, and activists working together—figure out what policy changes and advocacy efforts we need to make sure all health service providers treat us with respect.
Taking on the Complexities of Transgender Discrimination
Even with nondiscrimination laws for transgender and gender nonconforming people on the books in NJ, we still need to make sure transgender people have improved access to health care and birth certificates that match their gender identities.
Not all transgender people undergo medical treatments to transition, but many do, and for those who do, that medical treatment (including hormones, therapies, and surgeries) is medically necessary. Unfortunately, most insurance policies in NJ do not cover those medically necessary treatments. GSE is working with community partners to change that.
As regards identity documents, you can only change the gender marker on your NJ-issued birth certificate if you have had gender reassignment surgery. This is deeply unfair. Again, some transgender people never undergo any medical treatments. Many people will take hormones, but never undergo surgery. Every transition is different, and our laws need to reflect this. GSE is actively working with the NJ legislature to pass a law to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming people can change their birth certificates without having surgery first.
Creating Safe Space For Youth
At Garden State Equality’s Youth Caucus, youth from across New Jersey – LGBT, straight and questioning – learn to advocate for equality and school safety. Meetings take place every Monday from 3pm to 4:30 (on hiatus during summer months), either at a designated meeting place (usually 40 South Fullerton Ave, Montclair, NJ), or via Google Hangout. If you’d like to take part in Youth Caucus, email aaron @ gardenstateequality.org.
LGBT seniors face complex challenges. Seniors sometimes feel the need to reenter the closet when they begin receiving senior services; they need culturally competent health care; as they enter into senior housing programs, they need housing administrators and landlords that are friendly toward the LGBT community and know how to make LGBT seniors feel safe; the list goes on.
GSE is planning a campaign to spread awareness of these challenges across NJ, and ensure that senior service programs protect their LGBT clients. More details will unfold as the campaign becomes public in later 2015.
Strengthening Anti-Discrimination Enforcement
GSE continuously aims to make sure LGBT-focused laws are enforced effectively. In October 2014, it arranged to have a designated liaison within the NJ Division of Civil Rights (DCR). This will allow GSE’s constituents—NJ’s LGBT population—to discuss their discrimination concerns with a specific point person at DCR.
DCR is a branch of NJ’s Office of the Attorney General, and it has the task of investigating complaints and otherwise enforcing NJ’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), which provides nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and other identities.
This designated liaison program, which ensures our community members are talking with a sensitive, experienced member of DCR’s staff, is one of the most exciting things to happen in our organization’s history.
LGBT residents can get in contact with Ms. LeSter, the LGBT designated liaison at DCR, by calling GSE’s discrimination helpline at 973-GSE-LGBT, or filing a discrimination complaint at http://www.gardenstateequality.org/report/. GSE does not provide direct services, but will direct your information to Ms. LeSter.