InsiderNJ’s 4th Annual OUT 100 Power List, a tribute to political influential LGBTQs in NJ politics, comes out October 20. In the meantime here’s a tribute to some straight allies to whet your appetite.
Years from now, someone (probably me) will write the definitive anthology of queer liberation with the historical perspective it deserves. And when that happens you’ll surely notice that many of the heroes weren’t even LGBTQ.
Here we honor the straight allies who made our cause their cause too.
Gurbir Grewal, NJ’s 61st Attorney General (2018-2021)
When Gurbir Grewal became NJ’s Attorney General, he looked to us to fill multiple leadership posts. His successor, Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck, is gay.
Earlier this year, NJ’s then-Attorney General Grewal acknowledged “the systematic targeting of gay bars between 1933 and 1967” by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a division of the AG’s office.
It was literally against the law to serve alcohol to an LGBTQ person.
“More than 50 years later, there is little that I can say, except that I am sorry,” Grewal told the crowd on a scorching summer day near near the erstwhile “gayest spot in town” where Paddock Bar, a gay bar oft harassed by ABC officials, once hosted gay and trans people from near and far.
For most of my activist career, relations between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community have been fraught. So for NJ’s AG to stand with us so emphatically is a remarkable sign of progress.
A Congressman from South Jersey, Donald Norcross is the most LGBTQ-affirming member of the much-vaunted Camden Democratic Machine. Congressman Norcross is a reliable ally on stuff like gay marriage but also on transgender issues and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, as well.
A moderate republican assemblywoman from Burlington County, Jean Stanfield is on the ballot for NJ Senate against Dawn Addiego, the (republican-turned-democratic) incumbent who spent her entire career throwing LGBTQs under the bus. Take gay marriage for starters. Jean Stanfield supports it. Meanwhile, her democratic opponent Dawn Addiego voted against gay marriage THREE TIMES, including once to uphold Chris Christie’s anti-gay marriage veto!
Democrats are usually miles better on LGBTQ issues. In this very competitive senate battle in NJ’s 8th district, the republican Jean Stanfield is demonstrably better on LGBTQ issues than her demonstrably anti-LGBTQ democratic rival.
Sam DeAlmeida & John Francis Roman
A bipartisan power couple, Samantha and John work hard to fight the dogmatic anti-LGBTQ impulses in their respective parties. As a lobbyist for the Cancer Society, Sam helped end NJ’s shameful practice of marketing vape products to kids. By doing so, she materially encouraged better heath outcomes for LGBTQ kids who smoke and vape in disproportionately high numbers. For his part, John Francis is closely aligned with Union County’s LGBTQ heavy hitters like Commissioner Rebecca Williams and Danni Newbury who coordinates the Office of LGBTQ Services for Union County.
Over the past year, the retiring GOP Mayor of Hawthorne has made strides in supporting the LGBT community – forming a very active Pride Alliance (which has received accolades for its work over the past year), recognizing Pride Month with a town proclamation, and raising the Pride Flag for the first time on the town’s community flagpole.
A prodigious fundraiser in the war against HIV/AIDS, Robt Seda-Schreiber is now Chief Activist at Princeton’s Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, a civil rights organization named after Bayard Rustin a gay activist who who helped organize the March on Washington in 1963.
A former middle school teacher, Mr. Seda-Schreiber was named Activist of the Year by the National Education Association. After a lifetime of organizing (including spearheading Princeton’s first Pride Parade) Mr. Seda-Schreiber was named Martin Luther King Jr. champion of Justice .
A longtime senior advisor at Americans for Prosperity, Erica Jedynak has is long devoted to getting big government out of your bedroom. She currently serves as a federal appointee on the NJ State Advisory Committee for the US Civil Rights Commission. Ms. Jedynak’s old-school libertarian approach to social issues puts her at odds with many GOP faithful but that never stopped her from walking the walk on LGBTQ rights. Putting her money where her mouth is, Ms. Jedynak values the contributions and talents of all people, including hiring and promoting LGBTQ candidates up the ranks of her powerful and influential organization.
A tribute by Jared Lautz, advisor for Bergen Executive Jim Tedesco
Always a stalwart and fierce ally, County Commissioner Tracy Zur has served as the liaison to Bergen County’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee since its inception and taken an active role in the committee’s efforts. She was the driving force behind the LGBTQ Youth Summit, bringing together hundreds of students from across the County for a day of learning and community building. She spends most of June adorned in a rainbow scarf as she attends or speaks at nearly every pride flag raising in Bergen’s 70 municipalities.But her advocacy extends far beyond, advocating for LGBTQ-affirming policies at all levels of government.
The affable NJ State Senator from Monmouth County is the LGBTQ community’s best friend in the NJ GOP Senate Caucus.
Linden Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey is the mom of a gay son and the longtime bestie of (dearly departed) LGBTQ icon Salena Carroll-Lesniak. Gretchen is also one of the most affirming, pro-gay city council members you’l find anywhere in New Jersey.
Jersey City Councilman James Solomon is one of the most pro-LGBTQ lawmakers in NJ history.
The long-time member of Evesham’s board of education, Rosemary Bernardi has protected the rights of LGBTQ students and teachers for several decades.
An ally dating to back the AIDS crisis, Robin Gurin has marched with, stood with (and donated to) LGBTQ liberty since long before it was the cool thing to do.
NJ’s preeminent voice for drug reform, Jenna Mellor is working overtime to protect and preserve NJ’s needle exchange program. LGBTQ people are 4x more likely to use drugs and Jenna remains devoted to fighting for a marginalized population that’s disproportionately queer.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster and long-time New Jersey political gadfly. Before arriving in the Garden State, Jay spent 28 days in rehab back in 2003 (for meth) and saw first hand that, compared to heroin, meth detox is like trip to the spa. More people should know that.