DENVILLE – All was going according to form today with a “town hall” on LGBT rights and issues hosted by Cory Booker and Mikie Sherrill when some local politics interceded.
Daniella Mendez, a transgender woman serving on the Dover Board of Education, asked Booker and Sherrill their thoughts on a “hateful” resolution just passed by the all-Republican Morris County Commissioners. The measure in question calls for the state to rescind health standards in New Jersey public schools that Republican critics consider too sexually explicit, especially for young students.
Mendez pointed out that Tayfun Selen, the commission director, was in attendance. She wondered if he wanted to say anything and also, why he was even there.
“There” was the headquarters of EDGE New Jersey, a new building on East Main Street. EDGE stands for “End Discrimination, Gain Equality.” Its stated mission is to “respond compassionately and responsibly to those living with HIV, those at risk, and the LGBTQ+ communities by providing supportive services, housing opportunities, prevention strategies and education to enhance the community we serve.”
The question, which generated some murmuring in the crowd of about 50, may have been timely, but it was also a bit out of place.
As federal officials, neither Booker nor Sherrill has anything to do with the actions of local government.
But Booker took a crack at the question, saying he was speaking simply as a person and not a senator.
He recalled his upbringing in a mostly white suburb, Harrington Park, Bergen County, and how he saw little in the history books of the era (the 1980’s) about people “who looked like me” save for Martin Luther King Jr.
Mindful of a current debate about not only sex education standards, but also so-called critical race theory, Booker said, “I celebrate New Jersey” for talking abour critical topics. He added that talking about who we are as a people – and our past – can make New Jersey a better state.
Selen, for the record, didn’t take Mendez’ bait. He didn’t comment at the meeting and afterwards said that he and the board work hard to “represent all the people.”
When the session began, both Booker and Sherrill praised the courage of a young man who spoke of being ridiculed and bullied in school after “coming out” at age 11. Now he’s 20-years-old and with support from such groups as EDGE, he’s brimming with confidence and ready, as he said, “to change the world.”
From that pinnacle, there was more grounded talk about a recent drift away from rights long taken for granted.
Both the crowd and the lawmakers mentioned not only the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion that federal protection for such things as marriage equality and contraception should also be reviewed by the court. This may be only the view of one justice, but it continues to reverberate among Democrats
Booker sought some non-partisan turf, noting that polls show that marriage equality and abortion rights are supported by a majority of people, regardless of party. One example of that, of course, was the recent referendum in Kansas. Booker added that basic human rights are not political.
Or at least they shouldn’t be.
Sherrill said it seems shocking that in 2022, one has to talk about protecting marriage equality and contraception rights. But she added that she thinks people have been “empowered” and will act accordingly.
Sherrill, like all House members, is seeking reelection. But she also is seen by some as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2025.
Booker didn’t get into specifics, but he certainly suggested that the congresswoman from CD-11 has a bright future when he called her a “rising star.”