As Garden State Equality named a new executive director this week, the rush of support from elected officials like Senator Cory Booker, Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06) and Senate president Steve Sweeney (D-3) gave an indication of how far New Jersey has come on LGBT issues. The political valence of pro-LGBT stances has turned on a dime in the time since the state allowed its first same-sex civil union in 2007.
With the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision bringing marriage equality to all 50 states last summer, issues like transgender rights, job discrimination and HIV prevention are coming to the forefront across the country and in the Garden State. These are the fifteen advocates and elected officials who set the stage, and who stand to keep pushing forward.
- Babs Siperstein – The transgender Democratic National Committee member and longtime advocate has been the grande dame of LGBT activism in New Jersey for nearly 15 years with the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of NJ.
- Christian Fuscarino – Newly named executive director of Garden State Equality, the state’s most influential LGBT lobbying group during the fight for marriage equality, Fuscarino has said that he wants to bring the group’s focus to issues like eldercare and HIV prevention.
- Reed Gusciora – The assemblyman for the fifteenth legislative district became the first out member of the state legislature in 2006, and compared Christie to George Wallace and Lester Maddox in 2012 when the governor called for marriage equality to be put to a referendum instead of passed outright in the legislature.
- Tim Eustace – Gusciora’s counterpart in the 38th district was the first out non-incumbent to be elected to the legislature when he joined the Assembly in 2011. In 1989, Eustace and his late partner Kevin Williams were one of the first gay couples to adopt in New Jersey.
- Don Guardian – The Republican mayor of Atlantic City has been garnering his fair share of attention as he faces off with Governor Chris Christie over a state takeover of the troubled resort town. Guardian has insisted that LGBT tourism play a part in the city’s revival.
- Jim McGreevey – With the storm over his exit from Drumthwacket long past, the country’s first openly gay governor is now a close advisor to Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop and a proponent of a rigorous prisoner reentry program that could serve as a national model.
- John Traier – Chairman of the Passaic County Republican party, Traier has not been afraid to criticize the national GOP’s stance against same-sex marriage. Traier married his partner Mark Peterson in summer 2015, soon after the Supreme Court ruling bringing marriage equality to all 50 states.
- Jonathan Lucas – Lucas directs Hudson Pride, an LGBT nonprofit based in Jersey City that offers social services like support groups, health education and HIV/AIDS outreach. The group organizes Jersey City Pride, and offers training for healthcare providers to better serve LGBT and HIV-positive patients.
- Jay Lassiter – PolitickerNJ’s own progressive firebrand was at the forefront of the push for marriage equality here and in other states, and continues to bring that same sharp tongue to the debate over marijuana legalization and environmental causes.
- Chris Hillman – Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee’s LGBT Caucus, Hillman is on call when anti-gay rhetoric rears its head in the Garden State. When a poorly executed homophobic attack misspelled Cory Booker’s name surfaced in 2014, Hillman shrugged off the “haters” for their “embarassingly bad form.”
- Steven Goldstein – The founder of Garden State Equality was with the group from its founding in 2004 until 2013, the same year New Jersey allowed same-sex marriage. He and then-partner Daniel Gross were the first gay couple to enter a civil union here in 2007. Goldstein serves on the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
- Sue Fulton – Fulton was one of the first women to graduate from West Point, and is pursuing a freeholder run in Monmouth County. Fulton advocated for LGBT inclusion in the military before the half-measures of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ became the law of the land in 1994.
- Edward Johnson – Johnson was the first openly gay mayor of Asbury Park, and briefly considered a gubernatorial run for 2017.
- Bruce Harris – The mayor of Chatham Borough came close to becoming New Jersey’s first openly gay Supreme Court Justice in 2012, when Christie nominated him for the state’s highest court. Harris lost out by a slim 7-6 margin.
- Gina Genovese – The former Long Hill mayor became New Jersey’s first openly gay mayor in 2005. The former tennis champ is now one of the state’s most outspoken proponents of municipal consolidations as executive director of Courage to Connect NJ.