We’ll be in New Jersey next week for a mix of business and pleasure and I couldn’t be happier.
At the Jersey shore to speak at the state’s Library Association’s annual convention, Lynn and I will also spend a few days relaxing—long overdue after an incredibly intense first four months of the year.
I’m looking forward to just looking at the ocean and possibly sticking my toes in if the water isn’t freezing. I’m also looking forward to spending a few days in what could be considered the most LGBT-friendly state in the nation. Yes my friends, Jersey has attained that lavender-tinted gold star.
In addition to already having a statewide non-discrimination bill, a hate crimes bill and a civil union bill, this year the New Jersey legislature passed three more pieces of significant legislation.
One is an anti-bullying bill which requires schools to be more active in addressing harassment, including the kind of bullying LGBT students might face. This kind of legislation is absolutely necessary if we are to provide our kids with an educational environment that is conducive to learning and intolerant of intolerance.
The nation saw in sharp detail how not addressing anti-LGBT sentiment in schools can lead to tragedy when 15-year old Larry King was killed by Brandon McInerney, a 14-year old classmate, because of King’s sexual orientation and gender expression. Gay and flamboyant at 15, King told McInerney that he liked him. The next day, McInereney brought a gun to school and shot King in the head.
King was the victim of hate and homophobia. But, so is McInerney. If our schools taught openly and affirmingly about LGBT people and culture and had a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, LGBT students throughout the country who are harassed or worse because of their sexual orientation and gender expression would have a very different experience in school. If Brandon McInerney was taught about respecting differences instead of fearing them, he might not be looking at a life in jail.
With this new legislation, hopefully LGBT and straight students in New Jersey will have an educational climate that values diversity. Imagine growing up in a school setting where bullying is the exception rather than the rule, where kids actually understand what respecting each other means and where differences are praised instead of pilloried.
The second piece of legislation that passed in New Jersey this year was an amendment to the state’s hate crimes law to include transgender people. With violence against the trans community on the rise and the recent publicity surrounding Thomas Beattie, a transman who is still biologically a woman and is carrying a baby for him and his legally wed wife, protecting the transgender community against hate crime is an absolute necessity.
Beattie’s pregnancy brings the transgender community into a spotlight it hasn’t been in since Richard Raskin became Renee Richards in 1975. A headline story in People Magazine, a segment on Oprah and media attention across the country has led to a firestorm of trans-bashing by pundits and shock jocks alike. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and his compatriots Mika Brzezinski and Wilie Geist profiled the story during a “News You Can’t Use” segment of Scarborough’s “Morning Joe” show. Between the “ewws” and “that’s disgusting,” they sounded like a bunch of adolescents who could benefit from Jersey’s anti-bullying law. What’s worse is that Scarborough showed his innate homophobia by saying that one of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey’s aides probably supplied the sperm needed for Beattie to become pregnant.
When supposed reputable journalists like Scarborough who have a national audience make these kind of comments, it gives license to those who are totally ignorant about transgender people to act on their fear. I’m sure we’ll see an increase in hate crimes against the trans community—thankfully in New Jersey they’ll be prosecuted more vigilantly because of that state’s new law.
The Garden State is also on the precipice of passing same-sex marriage legislation. But before it does that, Governor Corzine is about to sign a bill that will provide paid family leave for gay employees who have to take care of their partners. The only other state in the nation to provide that kind of protection is California. You’d think Massachusetts would since we can get married there but that’s not the case.
So when I curl my toes in the sand on the Jersey shore next week, my feet will be firmly planted in the one state that leads the nation in advancing LGBT rights. I won’t be shaking that sand out of my shoes anytime soon.