On Wednesday March 31st, National Transgender Day of Visibility, the Sussex County Commissioners held a special meeting where they refused to acknowledge this day despite five members of the public asking they do so as it fell on the same date, and nothing was posted on the County Website or on their social media. Considering the Commissioner Board’s sordid history on LGBTQ+ issues, we feel it was pertinent for the leaders of the County, at the very least, verbally recognize this day dedicated to raising awareness of the discrimination and violence Transgender individuals face, honor the memory of those murdered for being their authentic selves, as well as celebrate their contributions to society.
Many residents spoke during public session on a variety of topics, all of which were recognized and responded to by the County Commissioners, with the glaring exception of National Transgender Day of Visibility.
Sussex County Pride Executive Director, Zoe Heath, stated during public comment, “I take severe issue with this board not addressing Trans Visibility Day at all considering both current and former members of this board have had serious, incredibly horrible things to say about the LGBTQ+ community. So I would really appreciate if we could correct that at some point.”
The only indication that the public wasn’t speaking into a void on this matter was when Commissioner Carney condescendingly implied that it was the responsibility of the public to submit proclamations they’d like to see issued, and confirmed this ‘protocol’ with Commissioner Director Fantasia.
When asked, the Commissioner Director responded, “Correct.”
The Board Clerk then explained, “there’s a proclamation request form and there’s criteria for the proclamation.” The County’s Proclamation Guidelines cited by the clerk is the very document that proved Commissioner Carney and Commissioner Fantasia misled the public. It states that one of the four acceptable criteria for a proclamation is “the cause be an initiative of the County (the corporation),” meaning the County can present its own, and it is not the sole responsibility of the public.
In 2021 alone, the Board has demonstrated questionable behavior multiple times regarding resolutions and proclamations.
The Sussex County Commissioners are currently under fire for refusing to pass a public submitted and supported resolution condemning the January 6 attack on the Capitol and white supremacy. The Commissioners failed to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day when it fell on the same day as their January 27th meeting, but after the first public commenter pointed this out, they verbally recognized the day. Begging the question, why did they refuse to do so with National Transgender Day of Visibility?
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website they “recorded 44 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2020, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013. So far in 2021, HRC has recorded at least 12 deaths of transgender and non-binary people.”
The Board’s seemingly inconsistent stance on resolutions and proclamations can likely be explained by their consistent ignorance and outright bigotry towards the LGBTQ+ community.
In June 2019, Sussex County Pride submitted a LGBTQ+ Pride Month Proclamation that the Commissioners did pass, but it was undermined when Commissioner Dawn Fantasia quoted former President Trump therein elevating the voice of someone that two weeks prior— during Pride Month, on the 4-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting— eliminated a regulation that prohibits discrimination in health care against patients who are transgender. In June 2018 when Commissioner Yardley and Commissioner Petillo refused to condemn former Commissioner Carl Lazzaro’s homophobic and transphobic rant that included calling “homosexuality” a “wacko lifestyle”. In 2020 they passed a resolution opposing the revised NJ Standards on Sex Ed under the guise of “family values”. The changes largely positively impacted LGBTQ+ adolescents.
Commissioner Sylvia Petillo, who is notably endorsed by “Family Policy Alliance” (widely known as an anti-LGBTQ+ organization that openly dehumanizes Transgender people) said she was uncomfortable discussing the topic in a co-ed space.
We demand that the Commissioners hold themselves accountable to their own “Pro-Respect” resolution, even if it blatantly disregards months of the public vulnerably sharing their own lived experiences with hate in our County. You cannot fight hate with respect like the Commissioners claim in their “Pro-Respect” resolution. You fight hate by condemning it, listening, having empathy, and lifting the voices and communities that have been marginalized and murdered.
Unlike the Commissioners, Sussex County Pride will not be silent, nor will we be silenced.