Bianca Mayes Interview TRANSCRIPT

Olivia: Alright, so our first question is tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Bianca: So, my name is Bianca Mayes. I am the health and wellness coordinator of Garden State Equality. Prior to Garden State Equality, I worked in the healthcare industry for about seven years. I got my bachelors degree from William Patterson and my graduate degree in public health from Montclair State University. This is going to be my third year at Garden State Equality in November. Prior to this role a lot of my experience has been in communication as well as population health so looking at different groups of people and seeing the differences in their care outcomes and trying to come up with interventions that work to address that specific community to address their healthcare disparities, and my role at Garden State Equality, we, you know, Garden State Equality is an organization that does a lot of advocacy work. It was founded on advocacy work. This was when the states were going one by one and bringing marriage equality before there was a federal law mandating that anyone can get married in any state. So, Garden State Equality is actually the reason why New Jersey has marriage equality. After that happened, the founders, the board members, they decided that we should stick around. There are still issues we can advocate for. Still educational efforts that we can get behind. So, they decided to create three program initiatives Map and Expand, Teach and Affirm, and Pledge and Protect. My initiatives are usually Map and Expand and Pledge and Protect, but sometimes I will get involved in Teach and Affirm. So, Map and Expand is just working with the healthcare system in New Jersey and providing them LGBTQ cultural competency in the hopes that practitioners will be more comfortable and affirming when working with LGBTQ people and providing community education so that the community feels empowered and understands the healthcare experience to reconnect with the practitioners because, unfortunately, we are seeing people go out of state for basic services when they really could be staying here in Jersey. So, we are trying to make sure that people are receiving cultural competency because, statistically, we are seeing that it’s not actually required in some programs and trying to replace that information. Teach and Affirm would work with LGBTQ students, administrators, educators, trying to make sure that the students have a positive experience, that they are more likely to graduate, that they have the resources that they need to have a positive environment, and then Pledge and Protect is our older LGBTQ adult initiative, and in that space I work with the older adult facilities and bring them LGBTQ cultural competency towards the professional staff, and to the residents of that facility to make it more accommodating and affirming because I think a lot of people think that LGBTQ in their minds jump automatically to youth who still need services and advocacy. However, there are a number of people that are LGBTQ that are 55 and older that need the same kind of advocacy, the same kind of resources if not more in certain situations, and that is why we have that initiative specifically because a lot of organizations that exist, a lot of their programming works for youth and young adults and not necessarily people older than 50

Olivia: So our next question is why did you choose to go into health and wellness and why should we take steps to protect the health and wellness of our communities?

Bianca: I always make a joke that in my family, I didn’t really get to choose to go into health and wellness. My family actually works in the health and wellness industry. I have several family members that have worked in the healthcare industry including my mother. She has been there for over 25 years. So, my sister and I were given options professionally. However, healthcare is something that really stuck to us because of how we were raised. You know, we were always surrounded by the healthcare environment and really drawn to trying to help patients or clients, communities achieve optimal health. I think that everyone should take steps to protect their health and wellness because that is your right as a human being on this earth. I think that everyone should know how to advocate for themselves when it comes to working with practitioners that everyone and take as active, be as active as possible when it comes to their own health care and control what they can control, right? Obviously there are somethings that people, that are outside of people’s control in terms of their health, but taking as much control as you can as an individual to represent that autonomy is super important. And I think that it's a way to grow as an individual and as a person, and it’s what everyone deserves. Everyone deserves optimal health, and the goal is as a society and in the public health realm, how do we reach that so that everyone is offered optimal health, not just certain populations of people that have more access and less resources.

Henry: Yeah that’s so true! One of the topics that you typically present on is the topic of LGBTQ+ youth and advocating for a health and sex education and resiliance. How do we best protect the health and wellness of the young queer community?

Bianca: I think the best thing you can do to protect their health and wellness is to get young LGBTQ people involved. There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of people that are not in the target group create the content, create the outreach, create the intervention and then wonder why young queer people are not getting invovled in their own healthcare right? I can create a presentation. I can create all the interventions in the world, but if it’s not something that they want to see and it’s not helpful then it’s not a good intervention. I think it’s also important to not only talk to them but give them a leadership space. Especially recently, I’ve seen a lot of young queer people being able to be out there and basically gather and get people together to ground themselves in fundamental healthcare issues and really take a stand and build it up as their own as young people and that is something that I think we should build up and not take away from them. Give them the leadership space, invite them to certain conversations that are happening right? So, if you have a young trans person, and they are trying to figure out how best to have a good school experience, instead of us all getting together as professionals and having a hypothesis as to what we think is actually wrong for that student, instead have that student in the meeting, have them voice themselves to leadership saying this is what I need to exceed as a person of trans experience. This is how you can help me because you have more resources than I do as an individual person, and, so, I think it is important that we all allow ourselves to extend the resources to younger people, specifically in marginalized communities. So, it’s not just enough to say young people. We need to be more definitive and say young trans people of experience. Young non-binary people. Young people that don’t have supportive parents. We need to be very specific in how we allocate our resources and not just say young adults because the young adults that are at home right now quarantining that are not LGBTQ are having a much different experience than teens that are at home that are LGBTQ that have parents that don’t accept them. So, I think that the best way to protect their health and wellness is that when we get the resources and specific programs to meet those that are most marginalized instead of just generalizing the experience of someone that is young because not all young people have the same experience in their health right? Especially if you’re trying to seek services that don’t exist. I can’t help but thinking of that we don’t have that many pediatric endocrinologists in New Jersey that will help young people with hormone replacement. And so how do we help them? We need to tell the state or the resources or the hospital associations that “hey we need more pediatric endocrinologists that can help this target population of people.” And we only know that because we are talking to people, and interviewing them. We can also best protect their health and wellness by honestly doing a needs assessment. You can’t, We need to have data first of all about how many LGBTQ youth their are, but we also need to do a needs assessment to be able to identity and research what it is specifically that they need, and then we can go and create programming, apply for grants, talk to patients about what the teens said they actually needed through those interviews and through that research collection

Henry: Yeah, Definitely! So, you provide LGBTQ+ competency training to healthcare workers. Recently, however, we have seen specific queer discrimination in healthcare whether it be one of New York’s leading Covid relief hopsitals not allowing openly queer patients or President Trump allowing for doctors to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. So, why is equity on the basis of LGBTQ+ identity, and really any identity at that, so important in the healthcare system?

Bianca: I love this question specifically because when I do my training in the healthcare space, so often providers say “this is a great presentation, thank you so much Bianca, but I treat all of my patients ‘equally’”, and the definition of equal is interesting because let’s say we have a person that has significantly worse health than someone else. Let’s say we have two patients coming into the emergency room, and one is in critical condition and one isn’t. If the healthcare system treated everyone equally, then that means they would spend equal amount of time in the emergency room, receive the same treatment, and get the same resources, and we know that is not what happens in the emergency room. So, when it comes to the equity piece and people’s identities, historically, this country has never treated different groups of people equally in the healthcare space. That doesn’t exist, right? We break it down to people’s socioeconomic status, or people’s race, or people’s ability to understand, read, or write in english. Traditionally, those populations have been left out unfortunately, so they have more significant healthcare issues and barriers than someone who doesn’t have that. Someone who has all the access and almost no barriers right? So that’s why the equity piece is important, and from a population health standpoint when I worked at the hospital, we would actually in people’s data when they presented to the emergency room when they presented to the hospital and got admitted, there are differences in people’s health just based off of their zip code, right? I’ll give you a perfect example. If someone lives in an environment, and there is no grocery story yet you see a lot of people in that environment with diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol because of the fast food chains that are surrounding that area. That is a prime example of it not being an equitable situation where in the next town over you can shop at Stop & Shop, Kings, Walmart, Whole Foods, all these other places where there’s fresh groceries yet you can go to the next town over and all you see is McDonald’s right? I like to think about fast food chains in general because you can geographically see, in low income areas, there is a fast food chain on almost every block, but when you go to the wealthier areas in wherever state you live, or whatever side of town, you will almost see no fast food places. So it almost makes you think there are specific areas that are targets, and that’s why equality doesn’t exist because when it comes to offering people better or worse healthcare, there is a choice that is made, and it's made on a systemic level, not necessarily an individual level, it’s made on a systemic level, and those systems have been in place for hundreds of years and society is unfortunately just starting to identity just now “hey, these systems don’t make sense and people are starting to suffer at more significant rates than they have to because of what’s been in place before,” right? Like think about the past, there were hospitals which people of color couldn’t use, so they had to go out of town to another hospital that allowed POC to be patients there, and in that situation if you are in critical condition and the hospital that doesn’t allow you to go there is closer, by the time you get to the hospital you are actually allowed to go to, your health is in more critical condition because you had to go to that further hospital, and even something as simple as that can really change someone’s outcome when it comes to care and their ability to be able to recover from certain situations. That’s why I love equity. That’s why I think it is really important we acknowledge everyone’s identities and differences because it plays a different piece of your health even down to like a biological level that existed throughout time.

Henry: I feel like I gotta give you like snaps that was so exciting. I was the whole time going like mmmm yeah!

Bianca: Health and Equity are like my favorite thing to talk about because I, for a long time, assumed that we were all on an equal playing field which if you are in a minority community, any minority community, you obviously know that that’s not possible, especially you know recently with Covid? I think that definitely made people realize that “hey, we don’t all have food, we don’t all have internet access, we don’t all have the ability to work from home,” and like now in the field of public health, this is the moment we are waiting for for people to realize that we have a broken healthcare system right now. It can be fixed, but we have to identify that it is in fact broken, and the way that we have been going about it is not helpful to most people.

Olivia: Totally. So, Covid 19 has highlighted a lot of disparities within our healthcare system whether it be the higher infection and death rates in communities of color or income differentials when it comes to access to life saving treatment. As someone who largely went into public health to address these disparities, what do you think we can do to correct them and how can we create equity, not equality, within our own healthcare system?

Bianca: This is also a really great question. One of the best ways that we can correct the healthcare disparities is to correct accurate data of all population groups. I say all population groups because I can’t help but think of SOGI data which is Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity data collection, how when you go to the doctor’s office, you fill out a form that asks you about your gender, it might ask you about your race, it might ask you about socioeconomic status, but in terms of the LGBTQ community, there is no question that asks you if you are trans or asks your sexual orientation, and one of the problems with that is anecdotally that we know that people that are LGBTQ are in greater need when comes to specific healthcare disparities, and this springs of local data. Some states allow the capturing of SOGI data collection, but unlike the other categories or demographics that I name, there are no, there is little to no, excuse me, federal inclusion of LGBTQ health data. There have been a few surveys that went out that has collected SOGI data, but there is no larger component that asks those questions, and the danger to that is it doesn’t allow us to identify exactly how many people are specifically affected by a certain healthcare outcome or a certain healthcare disparity, and, so if we are not able to identify how many communities are displaced, how then can we create intervention and education and outreach for them if we don’t even know how many people even need this specific resource. So, one of the first things that I think we should do to correct this is to start collecting data on every kind of demographic category that we can, we should start collecting people’s housing like a question in regards to housing like “do you have stable housing? Yes or no? Do you speak, read, write English? Yes or no? If not what languages do you speak? Are you in a safe home? Yes or no?” because these questions will be able to tell us a story that we can’t necessarily get in just a three part question that asks your race, your gender, and why you’re here today. We have to be able to start looking at the demographics of people and being able to basically see a trend in what happens over the years. We also need to be sure that we are involving these specific communities in our education and community outreach departments at whatever healthcare facility that you are in. It was only just recently that people started explicitly saying that in research health articles and public health announcements and statements that this specific community is being affected. Before it would just say “oh there are infant mortality rates in New Jersey for mothers,” and now it’s “there’s black infant mortality rates in New Jersey.” You have to get very specific when you’re talking about the larger healthcare piece. So instead of saying “Americans are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19.” No. You have to say “people of color and communities of color and LGBTQ people are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19.” You have to be very intentional with the language because if you’re not intentional with the language people think that everyone applies or it’s not a specifically targeted problem, and it is a specifically targeted problem. In terms of creating equity that the healthcare industry has to make sure to collect data from everywhere, not just the affluent areas, not just the urban areas, but also the suburbs, the rural areas, everywhere in between. We can’t skew the data that exists by only going to certain, specific areas and only collecting target research from those specific areas. We have to get it from everywhere, and that might mean being on the ground. We need more people of color that work in the healthcare industry in the leadership positions. We need LGBTQ to work in the healthcare system in leadership positions in a way that can bring awareness that comes from being apart of a marginalized community to make those decisions in terms of changing hospital culture because so often when we are looking at the hospital structure, we might see a lot of communities of color, but they may be working more hands on jobs like nurses aids, patient registration, namely janitorial, but we need to see more communities of color, more LGBTQ people as hospital executives, or management, or other leadership positions because then we’ll be able to have different identities and different backgrounds help instrument larger change in a healthcare system. Example, a health care system that I worked with, they had an LGBTQ BRG, a business resource group, the same way they had one for veterans, the same way they had one for communities of color, so the LGBTQ one got created and because it got created it gave their employees a voice regardless of what position they were in, and now that healthcare system is one of the top LGBTQ affirming healthcare systems in New Jersey. That’s an example of giving marginalized communities a voice and access to instrument real change in an entire healthcare system, but you have to get those communities a chance to be able to do that for a more equitable approach, and something else that has to happen that is even harder for the healthcare industry to do, is to admit that it’s failing. It has to admit that it is failing and that it has not been equitable, right? You have to start identifying the values and the mission of that specific hospital or that specific system to say that “in the past we have not provided equitable care to our patients. We acknowledge that, and we are working with consultants to help us change the atmosphere. We’re working with organizations such as Garden State Equality or other organizations that can start to implement change, and this is how we are going to go about it. So, hopefully in response to Covid-19 and other things that are happening in the world, the healthcare industry can take a step back and realize that there has to be some system changes to actually make equity happen, if not something that can be done, it’s something that can be done on an individual level, however there’s a great impact if its done on a systemic and communal level then just individual behavior, and that’s something that we are going to have to see how that’s going to happen for different population. So whether that’s the disabled community, health literacy, making sure that people can understand the messages that you’re getting out there, people that are under insured or have no insurance whatsoever. This is the population of people that they are really going to start having to be more aggressive in trying to provide better healthcare options for those specific groups, and that's something that each hospital should have an equity department that looks at the disparities of that specific hospital and its target area and looks at the history of what happened in that specific community to affect the healthcare and then be able to implement change, so if you a healthcare system that says “hey, our surrounding communities don’t have grocery stores, let’s work with agencies to be able to build one in there so that they can have better options for themselves.” That is something a hospital is able to do, but they also have to look at their surrounding community and be around to be able to make that kind of equitable change.

Time: 20:02

Olivia: Wow. That was an amazing answer. You’re very eloquently spoken.

Bianca: Thank you. It really truly is one of my favorite things to talk about because, for myself, I’ve spent so much time screaming from the mountain tops and now everyone is able to see the gaps that we have here. We’re still a great country, but we are a great country that has a few flaws that are now starting to turn into leaks, so hopefully we can fix that in time.

Olivia: Of course, so you are currently engaged in a quantitative research study with Rutgers University School of Public Health. So, can you tell us a little bit about this study and what it’s taught you.

Bianca: So, the study is the map and expanse of where we wanted to identify healthcare practitioners that are affirming and want to work with the LGBTQ community, and we wanted to identify them for various reasons. One of the reasons that I mentioned before is that we are seeing people go out of state. We are seeing people going to either Philadelphia or going to New York City because they might feel more connected with the providers that are there. They might think that they have more options, honestly, because of what the resources that go to cities might have, and we realize that even though the healthcare systems in New Jersey have the HEI accreditation which is the Healthcare Equity Index from the Human Rights campaign stating that they have policies and practices in place to protect LGBTQ people and employees or clients and employees, we are seeing that the individual practitioners are not as LGBTQ competent as we’d like them to be, and so we want to be able to identify specific, individual providers that are more knowledgeable than other providers and to be able to work with them on an individual basis so that people can build a rapport with that provider because, whether the industry knows it or not, LGBTQ people have an unofficial list of providers that the community uses. I’ll give you an example, they’ll say “oh this doctor, they were very helpful, they treated me really nicely,” or “Use this nurse practitioner, they didn’t misgender me.” So the community anecdotally has been capturing information around affirming providers, but that selection doesn’t exist anywhere online. The only way that you would get that kind of information would be by going through a community gatekeeper or knowing someone that knows someone that knows all of these providers you should be in contact with. We want to be able to put a list out there that says “these are the providers that are working with us to work with you,”, and, so one of the first steps is we had to assess what do providers actually know because there is no way to know if a provider is LGBTQ competent or not. So, when we did the survey, we asked a series of questions just trying to see, what information do you actually know? Or what information are you currently doing in your practice? Do you collect SOGI data questions? Do you know what prep and pep are because there are a surprising number of practitioners that don't know what prep and pep are. Do you know how to ask questions around sexual orientation and gender identity? Are you doing that? Does your practice have policies in place for LGBTQ clients and/or employees? Do you work with anyone that’s LGBTQ? We are trying to see what environment are you in. We ask them “have you ever received LGBTQ training,” right? Because, there is no way to know if people have received the training, and it’s not mandated by the Hospital’s Association or the Nurses Association. So, how do I know that you are more knowledgeable than any other provider? And, so, at the back end of that survey we ask them “if you want to learn more, here’s a couple of resources” for you to connect them with it. So, the piece of research we are hopefully going to try and do in the future is to try and figure out how to assess that information and how to make it helpful to the LGBTQ people in New Jersey. Research has taught me that there are a number of providers that want to be LGBTQ competent, but sometimes the system that they're in doesn’t have the education in place. So they, as an individual, might go and seek out professional development around LGBTQ identities on their own. We learned that their are providers that are awesome. They’re rockstars. They are working with the community, they’re asking the questions, they’re challenging their colleagues because they want people to be more accepting because they understand the significant healthcare disparities that they have. We also learned that there are some people that want to learn about LGBTQ cultural competency training, but they might be afraid. They honestly might be afraid of trying to find a correct person to learn this information from, or they might be afraid because their healthcare system, especially if they’re private, doesn’t accept talking about or receiving LGBTQ specific training, right? So it’s like this is what we have learned, but how do we create an implementation that works as a state for everyone to receive that information and that learning if they want to so that everyone has access to that information.

Olivia: Again. Awesome. So, just as a sort of comparison is it sort of like compiling, but obviously different severities, but sort of like a green book?

Bianca: Yes, yeah.

Olivia: Ok, I was just trying to draw a parallel in my head.

Bianca: So there’s a website called Lighthouse. There is a website for for New York City called Lighthouse, and this website compiles LGBTQ practitioneers or practitioners that are supportive and affirming of LGBTQ people, so that if you put in your zip code in New York City and the kind of provider you want, it will pull up a provider that will work with you. You can say, put in my zip code, and I want to work with a gynecologist, it will literally pull up a gynecologist that has worked with the LGBTQ community. Now that’s great, New York City has that, not New York State, New York City, so it's like, we have the entire state of New Jersey which is one of the most densely populated states in the entire country. We have all of these people here so we should probably have something like that in a digital space so that everyone has access to because there are lists that people have or individual organization that have providers that have worked specifically with them, but how do you help everyone in New Jersey if they don’t have access to that list because it doesn’t exist anywhere except on someone’s phone, or through trial and error? A lot of LGBTQ people find really good providers but it's through trial and error. So, it’s like how do we prevent that from happening? We gather a list of people that the community has worked with, but the practitioners can also come to us and say “hey, we want to work with you, we’ve received LGBTQ competence training, or if I haven’t I want to.” They get the training, work with us a little more, and then we can be able to say that this is a great place that you should be able to work with, or this is a great person that you should be able to work with, so that is what we are really trying to do.

Olivia: Awesome. So last couple questions, final stretch. So, you are also engaged in a qualitative study at Monmouth and Stockton University concerning focus groups with aging LGBTQ+ populations, and you also provide LGBTQ+ competency training to older adult providers. So, what have you learned from this and how do we best, in your opinion, support the aging LGBTQ+ community?

Bianca: So with this study with Monmouth and Stockton, I went to 15 counties here in New Jersey, and I did focus groups talking to LGBTQ people 55 and higher, and what I realized is that there needs to be more LGBTQ aging advocacy, right? So, not just LGBTQ in general, but LGBTQ aging advocacy for topics like elder care, topics like long term care facilities. Topics like power of attorney specifically for LGBTQ older adults. I also learned that there needs to be more services in place for LGBTQ older adults, right? If you are an LGBTQ older adult, there is not a lot of places for you. You may not want to walk five miles in a Pride parade, in the 90 degree weather, in the sun. You might not want to do that. You might not want to go to an LGBTQ bar because maybe you don’t drink. Maybe you don’t partake in that. Maybe you don’t like loud music. Maybe you just want to go to an LGBTQ senior facility, or maybe you just want to have an LGBTQ older adult tea dance, but those options don’t necessarily exist for the most part in New Jersey outside of the few organizations that have started to do LGBTQ older adult programming. So, as a state, I think that one of the best things we can do to protect our LGBTQ adults is to work with the division on aging, the new division on aging. We want to be able to work with them to create in the aging state plan, a place for LGBTQ older adults so that they feel protected and have resources, so that every county aging department in New Jersey, and every New Jersey county has an aging department, they should be able to be well equipped to provide LGBTQ aging information to people that might call in, the same way that they can do that for veterans and the disability department. We also need to make sure that LGBTQ older adults are protected. There are a number of stories that I have been hearing about a number of LGBTQ adults that are not allowed to apply for certain long-term care facilities because of them being LGBTQ, right? There was a facility that these two lesbian women were that, and they said “oh you can’t come to our facility” because they would only recognize the marriage between a male and a female. I’ve heard stories of people lying about their significant other, and saying “oh this is my sister” or “oh this is my best friend” to be able to be together in a facility and not be separated, right? Everyone should be able to age with dignity and respect. That’s what everyone wants to do, and, so, we actually have a bill that we are working on right now: The LGBTQ Senior Bill of Rights to be able to provide protections for LGBTQ older adults and mandate that the facilities have to have bionemal training in LGBTQ aging topics and HIV topics as well because a lot of people don’t realize that majority, 70% of the people in the United States that are HIV positive right now, are actually 50 and higher. So we need to start talking about not only LGBTQ older adults, but also HIV and aging as well because now we are taking a population of people that have survived the HIV epidemic that are older now, and how do we make sure that they get the best long-term care facilities as well. And when it comes to the cultural competency training, long-term care facilities are actually less likely to ask for those trainings because so often they will say “I don’t have any LGBTQ seniors here. There’s no LGBTQ older adults in my facility.” But if you ask them if they have been collecting SOGI data, the Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Identity data, the answer is no, they’re not. So that’s part of the problem. How do you know if you have an LGBTQ senior in your facility if you don’t specifically ask “hey, when you’re coming in for intake, do you happen to be LGBTQ?” And then we also, we want to make sure that people are having a positive experience in these facilities because, when you think about it, the same people that were bigoted or bullying LGBTQ people when they were younger are now in the same population group as them, and now they are in the same facility as them, and so it’s like how do we make sure that their fellow residents aren’t bullying them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity because we have also heard stories of people being bullied by residents because of their LGBTQ status. So, that’s why we have to do our parts and work with multiple organizations, work with the state, work with New Jersey AARP to be able to provide advocacy and protection and cultural competency training for the long-term care facilities so that we can be better equipped for LGBTQ adults because we know that they are here, and they are probably already at the facilities, but they might be in the closet and hiding who they are because they don’t know if it’s same for them to be themselves at this facility so we have to be able to have a separate conversation about LGBTQ aging the same way that we have a topic or a conversation about LGBTQ youth.

Olivia: Awesome! So, final question, as a queer publication from New Jersey we ask all of our interviewees the same question. So, what do you think separates New Jersey’s queer community, and are we different or are we the same as the rest.

Bianca: I definitely think LGBTQ New Jerseyans are different. I think that we are different. I think that because we have not had all of the opportunities as some of the larger cities like San Francisco or New York to have as many LGBTQ programs, resources, night clubs, etc., it puts us in a unique place to create our own space and able to address those issues and those needs that the community actually wants. I think that because we are vast in New Jersey, and so different depending on where you grow up whether it’s North Jersey, South Jersey, whether you believe in a Central Jersey, but those unique experiences are Jersey specific. You can’t find that anywhere else. We also have a lot of people that are LGBTQ that come to New Jersey that find a home in New Jersey, and I think that makes us really different as well because we might not be the first state the people think of, but we can be a home for different places, different kinds of people that come in, and we add them just the same, and I think that the New Jersey LGBTQ community is really connected. Like, I can’t help but think of Garden State Equality and our connections with other LGBTQ organizations that are in New Jersey because we reach out to them all the time. We depend on them all the time. We advocate for them because it’s important that we all share a single voice because we have a larger issue as a community that I don’t think you’d be able to do in another city. Like, think about New York. They have different boroughs, but in New Jersey getting the entire state behind LGBTQ issues, that’s really impressive, and that’s not something that you can find in other states. We are a very affirming state already, but with our other community organizations and us collaborating with state agencies, we are all doing what it takes to make New Jersey an even more affirming place, an even more affirming state than the other states, and that I think makes us unique. The fact that our law against discrimination that is so robust, that has categories in place that others don’t. The fact that you can’t be fired here for being LGBTQ. You can’t be denied housing. You can’t be denied public accommodations. We are the first state to have a transgewnder task force, right? Like, no other state had that before. We are the first state to have an LGBTQ inclusive curriculum that is not limited to history. It’s all subject matter. Talking about the contributions of LGBTQ people, and that is a New Jersey specific thing, can’t find that in many other states, and that’s what makes us different than the rest.

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