“Don’t mistake people who don’t understand for people who aren’t willing to learn.” — Georgia Baber — Girl Up Leadership Summit teen participant
It’s been a busy year for Garden State Equality Executive Director Andrea Bowen.
This weekend, Bowen will celebrate her first anniversary at GSE, having joined the Montclair-based civil rights organization after starting her career as a social worker and transgender rights activist in Washington, D.C.
Garden State Equality Executive Director Andrea Bowen, center, celebrates following the Supreme Court’s June ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationally Andrea Bowen BUY THIS PHOTO
A year in, Bowen describes New Jersey as a complex environment, one with many hardworking individuals looking to make a difference in their communities. Much of the past year has been spent meeting with community activists, including youth leaders, Bowen said.
She credited New Jersey students for bringing issues such as the need for LGBT-inclusive materials in health classes to GSE’s attention.
Bowen said she counts LGBT-sensitive training at schools, working with hospitals to provide LGBT-competent care, and training homeless shelter staffs to develop programs to work with homeless LGBT youth among the initiatives she is most proud of so far.
Essex County officials showed that they are proud of Bowen’s work, too, presenting her and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz with Pride of Essex County Awards during last week’s Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration.
Essex County Freeholder-at-Large Brendan Gill, a Montclair resident, said that the recognition of Bowen was well-deserved.
“I think she’s continued to hold up the legacy of Garden State Equality as an organization,” Gill said of Bowen. “Under the leadership that Andy has shown, GSE continues to be a real force and advocate for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual issues … I think we’re lucky to have Andy in that leadership role and [GSE] in Montclair.”
Gill told The Montclair Times that Essex County is unique in that it is one of the few New Jersey counties to have a LGBT advisory committee. He said the LGBT advocacy community is a large part of the fabric of Essex County.
Gill credited Bowen and GSE for its civic engagement and advocacy efforts, along with for Monday’s GSE-organized protest outside the Glen Rock office of U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett [R-5], in response to Garrett’s support of the First Amendment Defense Act, which prevents the federal government from taking action against individuals who claim to be acting in accordance with their religious or moral beliefs.
“I was really honored that they were excited about the work Garden State Equality is doing now,” Bowen said of the award. “This is an award that is partially for GSE’s legacy. [GSE founder] Steven Goldstein, [former Executive Director] Troy Stevenson, staff and volunteers built this. I was proud to carry the mantle.”
Bowen said she is focused on GSE’s future work. In the coming year, she hopes to address insurance discrimination against transgender individuals, provide better resources to shelters that serve homeless members of the LGBT community, particularly young people, and support LGBT youth in schools.
GSE is conducting an informal survey to see what New Jersey schools are doing to address bullying, establish gay/straight alliances, incorporate LGBT-inclusive health classes, and allow students to use the restrooms for the gender they identify with.
“If, in a year from now, we have changed the policies in schools to be more LGBT-friendly, I’d be a very happy woman,” Bowen said.
Bowen said she was also excited to have the support of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, along with several New Jersey congressional representatives, for the Equality Act, which bans discriminatory practices against members of the LGBT community.
“I can’t wait to see it move through Congress and finally become law,” Bowen said. “In so much of the country, you can get married one day and fired the next.”
Praise for Bowen
Since GSE helped pave the way for marriage equality in New Jersey two years ago, rallying public support has been a challenge, according to Steve McIntyre, a member of GSE’s board. Marriage equality was the clear focus of GSE’s first decade of existence, he explained.
“In the post-marriage climate, it was important for us to get a leader that was completely dedicated to the non-marriage issues,” McIntyre said. “To find a leader like Andy, who is trans herself, and who’s young and energetic and she’s been in the trenches … We’re thrilled with her accomplishments in her first year.”
GSE’s board remains committed to advancing LGBT initiatives through both legislative and judiciary channels, McIntyre said, and is proud to have Bowen’s work recognized.
“We are happy that she is being recognized for the important work she is doing – taking the lead on trans advocacy in addition to youth homelessness issues and eldercare issues in the community,” McIntyre said, referring to the Pride of Essex Award.
In an email to The Montclair Times, Brian Edwards, coordinator of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Center at Montclair State University, lauded the county for honoring Bowen.
“I am a huge fan of Andrea Bowen’s work and commend the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Advisory Board for recognizing her with a Pride of Essex Award this year,” Edwards wrote. “Andy is a change agent, and LGBTQ+ New Jerseyans are so lucky to have her at the helm of Garden State Equality.”
On the campus of MSU, one of the major focuses for this year has been removing transgender restrictions from student health insurance plans, Edwards wrote. Effective Aug. 15, MSU students will join students at TCNJ, Kean and Rowan in having accessibility to gender confirmation surgery, he said in the email.
The LGBTQ Center is working with campus administrators on developing inclusive policies regarding chosen first names and gender markers, Edwards added.
Article by ANDREW SEGEDIN – STAFF WRITER | THE MONTCLAIR TIMES