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 homelessness, respectful treatment of seniors, safe environments for youth, and expansion of insurance coverage of transgender health needs. Beyond that, GSE supports NJ’s activist community by bringing an LGBT lens to the shared struggle for justice.
Creating Safe Space For Youth
Again, GSE led the way on winning the most comprehensive anti-bullying law in the country. GSE will continue its outreach to address bullying in schools, by offering trainings to school staff and students on how to (1) respect diverse populations, and (2) follow NJ’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABBR) and Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
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.
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.
Improving Lives of Homeless LGBT People, Including Youth
There is an LGBT housing crisis in New Jersey. NJ simply doesn’t have enough resources to provide adequate housing and social services to the LGBT homeless community, of which youth are a major component.
LGBT homeless people, supported by GSE, the African American Office of Gay Concerns (AAOGC), Camden Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Newark LGBTQ Community Center, and many other organizations, are working together to end the crisis.
We kicked off an LGBT homeless organizing campaign in September 2014. At the AAOGC offices in Newark, a packed room of LGBTQ homeless youth, and a handful of advocates from various direct service organizations, joined together to catalog anecdotes about how our homeless population (youth especially) have been wronged by homeless service providers.
The youth were incredibly excited and specific about the nature of what they’ve faced in the homeless services system. And they were excited about meeting every month to change the system.
The energy was tangible. The stories were, as one participant said afterward, harrowing. We’ll work with the people who came—and more, as time goes on—to plan how to share these stories, and take on sustained advocacy for major change.
Meanwhile, Camden AHEC works with LGBT youth to improve their health outcomes. GSE has started working with Camden AHEC’s LGBT clients to pursue several advocacy goals, including addressing the stigmas they face, and finding ways to create more housing in Camden City.
This supports GSE’s wider goal of ensuring that our community– including youth–is truly living equality.
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 early 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.