In honor and recognition of October as LGBT History Month, SobelCo is proud to shine our nonprofit spotlight on our client, Garden State Equality (GSE), which is the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in New Jersey, with over 150,000 members, and one of the most successful statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organizations in the United States.

Providing more than two decades of support 

Since its founding in 2004, this organization has followed a mission to lift up the diverse voices of LGBTQ+ communities through education and advocacy to advance the movement for equality in New Jersey and nationally.

They are able to accomplish this awesome mission and vision by focusing on a three-prong approach that addresses advocacy, policy work, and training. As such they work tirelessly to build safe environments for youth, improve the health services that meet LGBTQ+ community needs, and demand respectful treatment of seniors.

Sharing the struggle for justice

At Garden State Equality, their activities and initiatives are shaped by racial, economic, and disability justice concerns as they envision a vibrant and diverse Garden State with full equality in the law and LGBTQ+ residents of all backgrounds experiencing equality in their lives.

Measuring success

In 2013, Garden State Equality v. Dow finally brought marriage equality to New Jersey. The years between the founding of Garden State Equality and the right to marry were filled with historic legislative accomplishments, including the passage of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, which at the time was the most comprehensive anti-bullying policy in the nation.

In collaboration with community partners, Garden State Equality has passed over 225 pro-equality laws, from the formation of a statewide Transgender Equality Task Force to an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum law covering all subject areas—both the first of their kind in the nation.

In addition, GSE is dedicated to ensuring that no one should have to choose between the people they love and the job they need! And now in New Jersey, no one has to make that choice because in 2019, Gov. Murphy signed landmark legislation to expand New Jersey’s paid family leave program with LGBTQ-inclusive protections! The definition of “family member” has been expanded to respect all family structures, because there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of family. Whether you’re married or in a civil union — or not married at all — everyone can take time off to care for their partner, closest loved ones, or their children.

And lastly, because of the efforts of GSE, in 2021, Gov. Murphy signed into law the LGBTQ Senior Bill of Rights, which prevents discrimination against LGBTQ older adults and people living with HIV in long-term care facilities.

Education is the key to change

There are four pillars that Garden State Equality upholds regarding educating the community, broadening everyone’s perspective and changing behavior based on awareness building.  These include;

With a program called Teach and Affirm Students in New Jersey, GSE and community partners—North Jersey Pride, GLSEN Central New Jersey, HiTOPS, Spectrum Diversity, the Innisfree Foundation, New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, and ACLU-NJ—plan to empower schools to be safe and affirming learning spaces for all students, including LGBTQ students, students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.

The LGBTQ-Inclusive Lessons & Resources Pilot Program study was conducted from January 2020–June 2020. The intent of the LGBTQ-Inclusive Lessons & Resources Pilot Program was to examine the application, experiences, and outcomes of the application of LGBTQ-inclusive lessons and resources. The LGBTQ-Inclusive Lessons & Resources Pilot Program included the development of LGBTQ-inclusive lessons across all content areas, professional development training for teachers and administrators, information sessions for community members, and data collection and analysis.

GSE is tackling issues integral to bullying, such as the “school-to-prison” pipeline, where punitive school policies push students out of schools and into incarceration. GSE is studying policies promulgated by NJ’s Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) that regard sensitivity to LGBTQ residents of JJC establishments, to see where GSE’s advocacy is needed, and how to better project LGBTQ youth from the depredations of our juvenile justice infrastructure. Underscoring Garden State Equality’s commitment to the universal safety and dignity of students, their Anti-Bullying Helpline provides help to people who need to navigate the process for filing a Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) complaint under NJ’s ABBR.

The mission of Educators for Equality is to provide networking opportunities and support for LGBTQ+ educators and their allies in order to ensure an inclusive and safe environment for all.

A commitment to improving health and wellness

LGBTQ people have specific health needs and challenges—ranging from family planning, transition-related care, mental health, sexual health, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and more—but many in the community find themselves traveling out of state… or simply not getting the care they need at all. LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ people of color, are statistically more likely to experience what are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), like being exposed to violence, poverty, and substance abuse.

To change that, GSE already provides professional development trainings around New Jersey. And their patient web portal is a critical next step to ensuring that clients can easily find those affirming providers—whether they are in Cape May, Clifton, or Camden, all the while offering options and solutions in six critical areas:

Youth homelessness is a crisis for all

GSE supports initiatives that increase awareness and creates positive changes for homeless LGBTQ youth. In fact, GSE is partnered with Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Jersey (CASA) and the New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency to provide support in the following initiatives:

  • Decrease the number of LGBTQ youth who are homeless
  • Increasing the number of licensed foster homes that accept placement of LGBTQ youth and teens
  • Work towards requiring licensed foster homes to have specialized diversity trainings that include gender identity and expression
  • Increase the number of CASA volunteers who are trained in LGBTQ awareness and inclusion to support youth involved in family court

But protecting the elderly is essential as well 

GSE’s Pledge and Protect program serves the needs of LGBTQ older adults. Recent estimates show that nearly 15 million Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. By 2030, LGBTQ adults ages 50 and older will number more than five million.

Due to unique challenges faced by this population, LGBTQ older adults are at greater risk for social isolation, loneliness, health issues, and poverty. LGBTQ older adults are less likely to have children to rely on for care and are more likely to live alone compared to heterosexual adults. LGBTQ older adults are also more likely to live in poverty compared to heterosexual older adults.

There is so much you can do to help!

Visit the GSE website and find out how you can be involved in a variety of different ways, including:

We hope you will support GSE’s goal of raising awareness, changing attitudes and perspectives, and opening doors for all to be equally treated with respect and concern.

We invite you to visit GardenStateEquality.org