What’s it like to be LGBT in New Jersey politics in the year 2023?
Short answer: it’s not that great.
In one corner we’ve go the NJ Republican Party gushing bat guano crazy, anti-LGBT sentiment for as long as anyone can recall. Early on in the battle for marriage equality, the NJ GOP voted “NO” (mostly in lockstep) throughout the aughts and well into the Chris Christie era. Their contempt for LGBT people was usually on full display, their strident “NO” votes often accompanied by mean-spirited commentary for the historical archive.
Anyone watching a series of GOP lawmakers weaponize their faith and indeed their God against queer people remembers how rancorous the battle would become.
There are echoes of that rancor in the current debate over trans issues and New Jersey’s novel and innovative LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. (Spoiler alert: it ain’t porn.)
If you’re curious what the New Jersey Republican Party stands for, just remember we’re now into the third month of a collective meltdown because a beer company put a transgender person in a commercial.
Everything that displeases conservatives is “woke” and everyone they don’t like is a “groomer” and, oh by the way, Phil Murphy is a “pedo” because he doesn’t sufficiently hate LGBT people. Incessant right-wing whining about “cancel cancel” while simultaneously striving to cancel anything they don’t like is proof that most GOP accusations are actually confessions.
Another school shooting? Whatever. But a drag queen reading Dr Suess to kids? Well, that’s when the pitchforks really come out.
And that’s pretty much the GOP platform in 2023, alongside controlling the outcome of every pregnancy in America.
And thanks to GOP priorities, censorship of books in schools is on the rise. New Jersey is no exception as school districts around the state actively work to eliminate any evidence of gay (and especially transgender) people from the curriculum and from the library.
Conservatives are on fire for this debate so if circulating petitions is our best response, we will surely lose this battle.
Many LGBT advocates in NJ, myself included, were caught flat-footed at the GOP’s sudden, rancorous embrace of things like book bans. And instead of a nimble, aggressive ACTUP-style fight-back (complete with media- and campaign strategy for Board of Ed seats) we clutched our pearls. We decried what we observed with platitudes like “No Hate in the Garden State” despite ample evidence to the contrary.
How we fight back? That’s always on us.
And what we settle for? That’s on us, too.
And that gets me to New Jersey’s long-dominant Democratic Party which has a demonstrably better voting record on LGBT issues than the GOP.
But much of their support is performative?
New Jersey Democrats will spend the month of June spreading Pride-themed rainbow memes online. But that barely masks their decades-long track record of treating gays like an ATM machine or (at best) campaign help.
Where are the LGBT chiefs of staff in Trenton? Where’s the bench of “next generation” gays to run for office?
There are no (zero) democratic LGBTQ state lawmakers serving alongside republican Assemblyman Don Guardian (see pic above) who alone comprises Trenton’s LGBT Caucus. Trenton Councilwoman Jennifer Williams, a moderate republican, is the only transgender municipal lawmaker in the state’s history.
New Jersey is a blue state largely governed by democratic gatekeepers and it’s not working out that great for LGBT candidates, something professional gay Democrats appear loathe to admit.
Straight Male Gatekeepers
LeRoy Jones leads NJ’s Democratic Party, George Norcross runs the Camden Democratic Machine, and Kevin McCabe chairs the Middlesex Democratic Machine. They remain the most powerful and consequential gatekeepers in NJ politics.
And their track record getting LGBTs elected is atrocious.
The Camden Democrats have never advanced an openly LGBT candidate onto the ballot or appointed an LGBT candidate into office. But apparently there’s plenty of room for straight guys who beat up their girlfriend to get multiple opportunities to serve.
Moving upstate, there are 7 legislative districts and 21 lawmakers representing Middlesex County, including 18 straight men, a paltry three women, and zero gays. There are no prospects on the bench because there is no bench.
So there’s plenty of evidence why the gay glass ceiling remains intact.
So that’s what it’s like to be LGBT in New Jersey politics: one party throws us under the bus for political points and the other party scores by pandering in obsequious and performative ways.
Happy Pride, New Jersey!
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill NJ.