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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Garden State Equality Releases List of some "Thank Yous"

(Letter from GSE Chair, Steven Goldstein)

"Dear brother and sister LGBTI New Jerseyans and our legions of straight allies:

At the end of this historic year for New Jersey's LGBTI community, Garden State Equality would like to say thank you.

Specifically, we'd like to publicly express our heartfelt gratitude to some of the leading figures in the state and nation who played vital roles in 2006 in advancing the civil rights of New Jersey's 875,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens. The next time you see or hear any of the names below, please know they work tirelessly, alongside us at Garden State Equality, to make a difference in your life. We love them and we couldn't do our work without them.

These people,
in alphabetical order, are heroes to us all:

1. Blue Jersey.
The state's leading political blog, www.BlueJersey.com is the virtual town center where progressive activists meet and post everyday to advance the issues, officials and candidates in New Jersey who stand for justice -- and to hold accountable those who don't. From the fight for Lt. Laurel Hester to the campaign for a transgender equality law to our insistence that New Jersey move beyond discriminatory civil unions to real marriage equality, Blue Jersey has been our cherished coleader every step of the way.
Blue Jersey, most of whose bloggers are straight, is the palpable symbol of straight support for marriage equality in New Jersey. The Blue Jersey leaders even produced their own commercials for marriage equality, which you can view at www.BlueJersey.com/thinkequal/. Garden State Equality is putting these Blue Jersey ads on television beginning February 19, the day the civil unions law takes effect, to let the world know that New Jersey will not settle for civil unions.
Visit www.BlueJersey.com and witness its daily pressure on our public leaders to do the right thing on a whole host of issues. Or, as it were, the progressive thing. Garden State Equality looks forward to honoring Blue Jersey at our Legends Dinner on Sunday night, March 4, 2007 in Maplewood.

2. Clergy. Outside New Jersey, the right-wing has successfully perpetuated the myth, too often unchallenged by the national media, that clergy would sooner fall on a sword than to see the end of discrimination in marriage. One of Garden State Equality's greatest joys is debunking the myth through our Clergy for Equality program.
More than 300 clergy members in New Jersey lead the way for marriage equality in their congregations, on the streets and in the corridors of power in Trenton. Our clergy supporters are Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Reform Jewish, Reconstructionist Jewish, Conservative Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Liberation in Truth, Unity Fellowship, Metropolitan Community Church, Ethical Culture, Baptist, Reformed Church, Baptist, Buddhist, Wiccan, Egyptian Pagan, interfaith, interdenominational and more.
In New Jersey, the overwhelming majority of activist clergy actually favor marriage equality. We thank them.
Though we can't single out each of 300-plus clergy supporters, this was the year that John Palmer Croneberger, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, announced his retirement. He has been one of America's preeminent religious leaders for marriage equality and a courageous ally to our community in everything we've fought for. We look forward to his continued voice for justice.
We also extend gratitude to the Catholic priests who have quietly and courageously lent us their support, reflecting the pro-marriage-equality views of 60 percent of Catholics in our state.
Symbolic of our clergy support, Garden State Equality relocated its statewide headquarters this year to a wing of the Unitarian Church of Montclair, one of New Jersey's leading centers for social justice.

3. Governor Corzine. How many states have a governor with our Governor's progressive agenda -- and who can achieve a good deal of it within just his first year of office? This month alone, Governor Corzine enacted legislation for stem-cell research, syringe exchange, transgender equality and civil unions. Yes, we'd like the Governor's support for marriage-equality legislation, but we also commend him for his repeated promise to sign such legislation should it reach his desk. And so it shall, within two years or less.
We extend our gratitude to the Governor not only for his role as a public-policy leader, but also for appointing more openly LGBTI people to positions in state government, including at the highest levels of power, than any other Governor in state history. Governor Corzine's record on diversity is as good as that of any other leader in America.

4. GLBT Rights Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association. The Committee, comprised of openly LGBTI lawyers and pro-LGBTI straight lawyers in New Jersey, has worked relentlessly and with historic success to transform New Jersey's powerful State Bar Association into a leader for LGBTI equality. Leaders of the Committee, including cochairs Tom Prol and Felice Londa, and founding cochairs Daniel Weiss and Laraine Schwartz, have worked doggedly behind the scenes to bring LGBTI issues to the forefront of the State Bar Association's attention.
Danny Weiss, the first-ever openly LGBTI member of State Bar Association's Board of Trustees, got the Board to endorse full marriage equality over discriminatory civil unions. The State Bar Association thus became the most prominent organization within New Jersey's innermost circles of power to endorse marriage equality. The beneficial effects will ripple throughout other establishment centers as we work to pass marriage equality within the next two years or less.
Garden State Equality looks forward to honoring the GLBT Rights Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association at our Legends Dinner on Sunday night, March 4, 2007 in Maplewood.

5. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. It seems impossible to believe that until late 2006, New Jersey, as progressive as anywhere else in America, had not a single openly LGBTI member of the state legislature. Not one. Ever. Even the reddest of red states have long had openly gay legislators, but not New Jersey.
That's now changed.
Yet Reed Gusciora, the Assemblyman who represents Trenton, Princeton and other parts of Mercer County, is a hero not only to the LGBTI community, but also to millions more across New Jersey for his stupendous legislative record and unwavering commitment to equality for all. He was the prime sponsor of the transgender equality law that Governor Corzine enacted last week, and continues as the prime sponsor of the bill to provide marriage equality to same-sex couples in New Jersey, which would supplant civil unions. Garden State Equality pledges to get his bill passed within the next two years or less.
We acknowledge the trailblazing public service of New Jersey's other openly LGBTI elected officials: Gina Genovese, the mayor of Long Hill Township, the state's only openly LGBTI mayor; Kathy Hogan, deputy mayor of Haddon Township; Ed Johnson and John Loffredo, members of the Asbury Park City Council; Robert DiSanto, president of the Asbury Park Board of Education; Susan Bisaha, Greg Brewington, Frank D'Alessandro, John Figueredo and Garrett Giberson, members of the Asbury Park Board of Education; Randy Bishop, member of the Neptune Township Committee; Bruce Harris, member of the Chatham Borough Council; Lora Yates, member of the Chatham Board of Education; John Traier, member of the Clifton Board of Education; Donna Schiavone, member of the Hillsdale Borough Council; Tim Eustace, member of the Maywood Borough Council; and John Kashwick, member of the Closter Borough Council.

6. Lt. Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree. The Civil Unions law that Governor Corzine just enacted should really be called the Lt. Laurel Hester-Stacie Andree Civil Unions Law. One of Garden State Equality's great joys was to lead the fight for Lt. Hester and Stacie in 2005 and early 2006. And one of our great moments of sadness was when Lt. Hester passed away this past February.
Lt. Hester leaves a legacy of courage, honesty and impassioned leadership that will inspire civil rights activists for generations to come. She was the most remarkable LGBTI civil rights leader many of us had ever met.
We continue to miss her terribly.

7. Lambda Legal and its seven plaintiff couples. We would not be this close to marriage equality without Lambda Legal. We would not have a civil unions law today, nor would we have sponsors of the civil unions law pledging to revisit marriage equality soon, without Lambda Legal.
We understand why legislators are congratulating themselves for having made big strides toward LGBTI equality in 2006. It was quite a year. But let's not forget that without Lambda Legal's lawsuit, the Supreme Court would not have forced the legislature to act. We extend our particular gratitude to David Buckel, Lambda Legal's marriage project director who gave his blood, sweat and tears to the case and argued it in our courts; and the seven plaintiff couples who also gave us much of their lives over the past five years. The plaintiffs are Min. Alicia Heath-Toby and Saundra Toby-Heath, Craig Hutchison and Chris Lodewyks, Maureen Kilian and Cindy Meneghin, Sarah and Su Lael, Rev. Mark Lewis and Rev. Dennis Winslow, Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, and Diane Marini and the late Marilyn Maneely of blessed memory. We miss you, Marilyn.

We also thank the children of the plaintiff couples, who experienced history through some of their most precious years.And we thank Larry Lustberg, cooperating attorney with Lambda Legal on the marriage case. Larry, a partner at the firm Gibbons Del Deo in Newark, ranks among the great progressive lawyers of our time.

8
.
Legislators who support marriage equality. Since the October 25th Supreme Court decision, support for marriage equality in the state legislature has quadrupled. In what may be unprecedented in the national marriage equality movement, all the primary sponsors of the civil unions law -- Senate President Dick Codey, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fred Caraballo and Assemblymembers John Burzichelli, Doug Fisher, Mims Hackett, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John McKeon -- said the civil unions law was not full equality and merely a step toward the legislature's revisiting marriage equality. As did Senate Judiciary Committee Chair John Adler and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Linda Greenstein.

The prime sponsors of a marriage equality bill already include Assembly members Reed Gusciora, Mims Hackett, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John McKeon, Bill Payne and Brian Stack. In all, 24 state legislators have indicated their support for the bill.

As long as we're thanking legislators, we extend special thanks to their staff members, the unsung heroes who have done so much over the years to advance the community's civil rights. We also express particular gratitude to Senate President Dick Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts for being among the most strongly pro-LGBTI rights legislative leaders in the nation.

We also thank the 11 Republican Assembly members and 4 Republican state Senators who voted in favor of civil unions. They include Assembly members Bill Baroni, Kip Bateman, Jennifer Beck, Peter Biondi, Frank Blee, Jon Bramnick, Amy Handlin, Jim Holzapfel, Eric Munoz, Charlotte Vandervalk and David Wolfe, and Senators Andrew Ciesla, Bill Gormley, Tom Kean Jr. and Bob Martin.

As we continue our fight for marriage equality, we hope our moderate Republican friends remember the philosophy of our greatest Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Civil unions, while a tremendous step forward, are separate, unequal and discriminatory.

9
. Local LGBTI organizations in New Jersey.
Our state is blessed with so many wonderful organizations that serve our community at the county and municipal levels, from the Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County, to Jersey City Lesbian and Gay Outreach, to the Trenton Gay and Lesbian Civic Association, to GABLES of Cape May County, to countless other organizations everywhere. These organizations produce social and issue-related programming that enrich your lives and bring the voice of your local community to the statewide level.
Garden State Equality would like to express its particular gratitude to the NJLGC for being the vital link between these organizations for more than three decades and for its work that has helped to make New Jersey a better place for the LGBTI community -- we appreciate you. We look forward to working even morely closely with the NJLGC in the year ahead.

This was also the year of the founding of the Hudson Diversity Action Council, which has quickly become a major voice in Hudson County and has done wonders to bring the LGBTI and straight communities closer together there. Congratulations.

10
. National LGBTI rights organizations.
From the moment the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down its ruling on October 25th, Garden State Equality was blessed with assistance from our national partners that was as swift and united as any effort our movement has ever seen. The Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the ACLU, Freedom to Marry, Lambda Legal, MassEquality, Gill Action, the Gill Foundation and Proteus/CMC, among other organizations, instantly coalesced to provide Garden State Equality additional staff, resources and ingenuity.

More than a dozen of these organizations' best and brightest staff members temporarily moved to New Jersey from across America, joining with Garden State Equality to infuse our state with a six-week Marshall Plan that quadrupled our support for marriage equality in the state legislature. You very likely heard, saw or participated in these efforts, from the more than 300,000 emails, postcards and telephone calls you sent to our public officials in six weeks, to the door-to-door campaigning the likes of which New Jersey had never seen before, to our 50 simultaneous action parties in all 40 legislative districts on December 5th.
When we win marriage equality in the next two years or less, you'll be able to point to this period of inter-organizational cooperation in 2006 as a turning point. To all our partners from outside New Jersey, we extend to you our deepest love and gratitude.

11.
New Jersey Statewide HIV/AIDS Coalition and its member organizations. This was a banner year for New Jersey's HIV/AIDS activists. They worked heroically and successfully to save New Jersey's HIV/AIDS programs from draconian cuts, under the federal Ryan White Act, that members of Congress from other regions of the country had proposed. The cuts would have decimated New Jersey's HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs.

This was also the year in which HIV/AIDS activists saw their many years of work for a syringe exchange program culminate with Governor Corzine's signing of a syringe exchange law just this month. New Jersey had been the only one of the 50 U.S. states without a syringe exhange program, a proven tool to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Particular gratitude goes to Riki Jacobs, executive director of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, who helped to craft the first syringe-exchange bill in 1993, and to Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, the first legislative leader in New Jersey to put passage of the bill on top of his agenda. The new law will save lives. Thank you.

12. Out in Jersey.
Nothing could be more important to the identity of a statewide LGBTI community than to have its own statewide publication. For many years, New Jersey's LGBTI community relied solely on the reporting of LGBTI publications outside the state, for which New Jersey LGBTI news competed with LGBTI news from elsewhere.
Founded in 2002, Out in Jersey is the magazine for which our state's LGBTI community has yearned. It covers our New Jersey LGBTI news and events with comprehensiveness, trenchancy and irreverence. We extend particular gratitude to Out in Jersey general manager Peter Frycki, editor Toby Grace and their colleagues for producing journalism in the highest ideal of public service. Each month they balance reportorial fairness with putting New Jersey's LGBTI community first. In so doing, they are the journalistic glue that works to hold our community together.

13. PFLAG
. The LGBTI community could not have more loving or devoted advocates than the New Jersey chapters of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They are an irreplaceable bedrock of support for the LGBTI community both personally and in terms of advocacy. They prove that marriage equality is important not only to the 10 to 15 percent of New Jersey citizens who are LGBTI, but also to the 80 percent of New Jersey citizens who personally know someone LGBTI.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the North Jersey, Bergen County, Morris County, Princeton, Philadelphia/South Jersey, Jersey Shore and other PFLAG chapters throughout the state. You, PFLAG members, are the salt of the earth.

14
. Predominantly straight grassroots organizations in New Jersey.
Key to the astonishing advancements of the LGBTI community in New Jersey, and helping to bring us ever closer to marriage equality, are the predominantly straight grassroots organizations who have put marriage equality at the top of their agenda. These organizations have not only endorsed the issue, they have made it a priority.
New Jersey for Democracy and its county chapters across the state, as well as BlueWaveNJ, Progressive Democrats of America/New Jersey, New Jersey's Democratic Future, and Citizens for Progressive Representation, and of course Blue Jersey, are just some of our many beloved partners whose membership is predominantly straight.

We must single out the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which has a decades-long track record in winning justice for the LGBTI community in our state. The energy and commitment of people like ACLU-NJ executive director Deborah Jacobs, legal director Ed Barocas and staff attorney Jeanne LoCicero, among their other wonderful colleagues, is remarkable. We also thank the National Organization for Women of New Jersey for being a pioneer for LGBTI rights. New Jersey has been so fortunate to have the leadership of NOW-NJ presidents over the years like Myra Terry, Bear Atwood, Elizabeth Volz and Suzannah Porter.

15. Transgender community
. This was the greatest year in history for New Jersey's transgender community. Governor Corzine recently signed the transgender equality law that makes New Jersey the third most populous state in America to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Most gratifying were the margins by which the legislature passed the law: 69 to 5 in the Assembly with six abstentions, and 32 to 3 in the Senate with five abstentions. The combined vote of 101 to 8 is the largest margin by which a state legislature has passed a transgender rights law in American history.

We extend our enormous gratitude to the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, the statewide transgender organization, for helping to lead the way. From Garden State Equality's first-ever Equality Day at the State House to GSE's television commercial for transgender equality, the first commercial of its kind anywhere in the nation, GRAANJ members were in the thick of the battle at every step.
Their dedication not only worked to pass landmark legislation, but also succeeded in educating New Jersey on the discrimination faced by their community. More stories about our transgender sisters and brothers appeared in this one year alone than at any time before. Moreover, we thank our transgender activists for being so generous in fighting for the entire range of LGBTI equality. They are always among the first to show up and help Garden State Equality at our events for marriage equality.

We extend particular congratulations to Denise Brunner, who in being elected Deputy Vice Chair of the Democratic State Committee became the first transgender New Jerseyan to hold so high a position in a state party; and to Barbra Casbar, who as President of New Jersey Stonewall Democrats became the first transgender New Jerseyan to lead a general LGBTI organization.

Garden State Equality looks forward to honoring GRAANJ at our Legends Dinner on Sunday night, March 4, 2007 in Maplewood.

16.
Unions. In New Jersey, the state with the highest percentage of labor union members in America, our marriage-equality movement is blessed to have the staunch support of labor leaders and members across the state. Members of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, Communications Workers of America, New Jersey Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Association of University Professors, Unite Here, SEIU and many other unions have stood side-by-side with Garden State Equality in solidarity for marriage equailty.

In 2006, Garden State Equality honored several labor leaders for their support of marriage equality, including Bill Kane, president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council; Carla Katz, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034; Hetty Rosenstein, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1037; Dottie Gutenkauf of the AFT Retirees of New Jersey; Bennet Zurofsky of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council; and Carol Gay of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council who also ran a magnificent race for U.S. Congress in New Jersey's Fourth Congressional District.

Enormous love and appreciation goes to the Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council who have performed at so many Garden State Equality events. We look forward to their performing at our events in the year ahead.

1
7. Frank Vespa-Papaleo.
Frank is the director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. No state in America has a more aggressive leader in fighting for the civil rights of all communities, including the LGBTI community, than New Jersey has in Frank Vespa-Papaleo. He responds instantly and personally every time our community, or any other, brings a case of discrimination to his attention. He is paradigm of government responsiveness that may be unprecedented for government anywhere.

Frank has issued groundbreaking opinions that have ranged from curtailing anti-LGBTI bullying in our public schools to ensuring equality in employment, housing and public accommodation. New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, perhaps the strongest law of its kind in America, is even stronger because of Frank's aggressive leadership.
Frank has been honored by many civil rights organizations across the state. When Garden State Equality proposed that the new civil unions law include a commission to investigate and report how the law falls short of marriage equality in protecting same-sex couples -- a proposal included in the law that Governor Corzine just enacted -- we made sure the Director of the Division of Civil Rights would sit on the commission.

Friends, those are some of the people who changed our lives in 2006. The rest are all of you. Together, we have created the most exciting time and place in America for advancing the rights of the LGBTI community. Next, we vow, will be marriage equality in New Jersey within two years or less.

To make an online contribution to Garden State Equality, please visit
www.GardenStateEquality.org. Your entire contribution will go directly to the fight for equality.
We appreciate all of you more than we can adequately express. Here's wishing you and your family a very happy new year.
In peace, b'shalom, en paz,
Steven Goldstein
Chair
Garden State Equality"

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