Honoring Our Lost Siblings

Jahmila Smith, Project Manager & Trainer

The eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day used to celebrate and honor the lives of trans people whose lives were lost to violence, turned into a day of grief, sadness, and loss within our community. On November 19, a shooter went into a Colorado nightclub, harming at least 22 patrons, and resulting in the lost lives of 5. When these attacks happen, many in the LGBTQ+ community and those who are allies are left heartbroken, confused, and in fear as it is a reminder of the constant hatred and bigotry that fuels these attacks. These attacks cause harm and pain to LGBTQ+ people, because it is a reminder of how few spaces are truly safe for people in our community. For many, this attack brought them back to the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where a similar attack occurred.

On November 27, Garden State Equality held a community response vigil at Paradise in Asbury Park in response to the shooting at Club Q. Regardless of where harm occurs, an attack anywhere is an attack to justice and equality everywhere. We honored the lives of Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, and Ashley Paugh, and will continue to speak the names of those who have been harmed for simply being themselves.

Transgender Awareness Week and Access to Gender Affirming Care

Damien A. Lopez, Project Manager & Trainer

The week preceding Transgender Day of Remembrance is Transgender Awareness Week. In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Garden State Equality reiterated the importance of supporting the trans community. The political attacks on LGBTQ+ youth create even more stressors on top of what LGBTQ+ youth are already experiencing. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, with LGBTQ+ youth at a significantly increased risk.

Current research estimates that 82 percent of trans individuals have considered suicide and 40 percent have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth. In fact, when trans youth are given access to gender-affirming services and hormone treatment, they experience 60 percent fewer rates of depression and 73 percent fewer rates of suicidality and improved well-being.

There is a medical consensus among all major medical bodies that agree trans people should be supported in gender transition, that being transgender is not indicative of mental illness or psychopathology, and it is not helpful and is in fact damaging to force a child to behave in more gender-conforming ways. The research is out there that reaffirms that gender-affirming care saves lives! Youth, specifically LGBTQ+ and trans, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary youth, need to see themselves reflected in the lessons they learn. Not only are accessibility to healthcare and mental services imperative, but seeing representation of themselves and their communities is a leading factor in lower risks of anxiety, depression and sucidality.

After writing my transgender children’s book and finding my way to Garden State Equality, I want to work toward uplifting those who look and feel like me but may lack the voice, words or support they need to also thrive, because thriving and surviving are two different things. We’ve been able to uplift our TGNB and LGBTQ+ youth communities by implementing projects and community events like our Transgender Day of Visibility Luncheon, transgender/nonbinary-led discussion panels, our Pride Zine, our Colors of Equality coloring book, and also have had the opportunity to obtain 100+ gender-affirming chest binders for youth in white and brown for BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth who need them. 

It is so imperative to talk about access to healthcare, access to mental health services, shelters, and gender-affirming care, especially when there are direct attacks to our community across the nation!


D Belinfanti, Project Manager & Trainer

We are no strangers to the topic of gun violence. We must stand against violence that destroys our communities, and this is exactly what we are doing here at Garden State Equality. When you search Deadliest Cities in New Jersey, Asbury Park is number 4. In August, Kyshon “Butey” Washington-Walker was fatally killed due to gun violence in the city. He was an innocent bystander caught in a tragic ending. His family and community members peacefully protested in the streets of Asbury in July to demand justice and reform, to make Asbury safe again. With the success of our Healing & Wellness Fair, we were able to curate a self-healing safe space for families and youth for three hours! This is what the people on the West Side of Asbury deserve, need, and value.

Continuing the conversation following Mom’s Brunch: The Fight Against Gun Violence, on October 28, Butey’s family, alongside Pastor Jason Jennings of the Rebirth Church and Pastor Lyddale Akins of Triumphant Life Church, hosted the first of many “Heal Our NeighborHOOD” forums. I attended this meeting not looking for answers but to see and hear what is already in the works. We broke out in groups and discussed the issues that we see in the community that are contributing factors to gun violence, and what tools and practices can be implemented to mend the city as a whole. One group focused on the aspects of creating healing spaces, such as a free 24/7 drop-in center and community learning sessions on trauma. The second group focused on creating youth organizers not appointed by the city and the curation of citizen patrol due to the controversial relationship with law enforcement. 

If we continue to stay silent, we are only aiding in the harm that is placed upon those struggling. Stand up, be loud, demand justice. #IAMBUTEY

United States Conference on HIV/AIDS

Aleyah Lopez, Project Manager & Trainer

In October, Garden State Equality had the privilege of attending the United States Conference on HIV/AIDS in San Juan, Puerto Rico; thanks to the support of the Equality Federation. Prior to attending the conference, I supported multiple HIV decriminalization efforts, as well as research and brainstorming on ways to continue advocating for people living with HIV following its decriminalization in the state of New Jersey earlier this year. The conference brought to light so many issues people living with HIV face on a daily basis, issues I wasn’t even aware of previously.

My colleague Jahmila Smith and I attended numerous professional development sessions, trainings, info sessions, and more. I knew that HIV was a serious and very real issue that millions of people have to deal with, however, I previously thought of it as a policy/legislative issue due to the nature of my work; but now I see that there is so much more work that can be done to support and help those living with HIV. I learned about the importance of breaking down stigma surrounding HIV, especially as far as medical practitioners are concerned. I learned about housing insecurity for those living with HIV, and what the Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to do to tackle this issue. I learned about preventative care and treatment options that are being made more readily available in other parts of the country, and how other states can use marketing and other forms of media to educate and bring awareness to available options. 

On top of everything I learned from the amazing organizations that attended the conference, I learned the most important thing to include is community voices. It is impossible to do this work without caring about and advocating for the most affected and vulnerable populations. Decriminalizing HIV was only the tip of the iceberg – although we are so grateful that our state is one of few states that have repealed former discriminatory HIV laws, we know that so much more can and needs be done to truly bring justice to this community of people. Garden State Equality will continue to fight for underrepresented communities and keep their voices at the forefront of the conversations being held so their voices, opinions and concerns are heard!

National Camp T-Shirt Day

Justine Evyn Saliski, Project Manager & Trainer

On November 15, the Garden State Equality team took part in celebrating National Camp T-Shirt day for the first time. Held every year, National Camp T-Shirt day is a time to pull out your camp shirts or T-shirt blankets, and spend a little bit of time reminiscing about some of your favorite camp memories. For us, some of the top memories that our camp t-shirts sparked revolved around friendships, being independent, and participating in games and competitions, but most of all, we collectively knew that camp was a place where magic happened. 

For the past 5 years, I have worked with hundreds of campers as a camp director, and in that time I have been fortunate enough to see campers anywhere from ages 5-17 laugh with new friends, try something new that they were scared to try before, work with peers as a team, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Camp is a space where kids get to be kids, and for LGBTQ+ youth, finding a safe haven in the summer where they are given the opportunity to be exactly who they are is an experience that we are so excited to be working toward creating in the Garden State.

LGBTQ+ youth are constantly facing the stress of just being a kid, on top of having to worry about being accepted and understood by family members, by their friends, and within their communities. At Garden State Equality, we know firsthand the challenges and disparities that LGBTQ+ youth face on a daily basis, and the camp that we are developing will provide a safe haven where youth are able to spend part of their summer with individuals who look like them, experience the same adversities that they do, and participate in activities that celebrate who they are. Whether it be through workshops centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion, taking part in interactive arts activities, or sitting around a campfire laughing while sharing stories and making memories, camp should be a safe space that always feels like coming home.

Stay tuned for more updates as we bring our vision to life, and make sure to check out our National Camp T-Shirt Day video reel!

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