Dave D'Amico Interview TRANSCRIPT

Henry: So, just tell us about yourself and a little bit about what you do as Chief Investigator, Middlesex County Department of Corrections and Youth Services?

Dave: Sure, so, I am very fortunate. This is my 31st year in law enforcement, and I say I’m very fortunate because I really do believe that I haven’t working a day in my career, not meaning it wasn’t work, of course it was work, but I enjoy it and when you enjoy your job it’s not work. It’s just something that you really like to do. So, I want to say about four years ago now, I had gotten the opportunity to join the Middlesex County Department of Corrections and Youth Services. I got a call and was recruited to the department. My main responsibility is the overseeing of internal affairs of the department, so, policies and procedures, allegations of officer wrongdoing. I have collateral duties of community outreach, collateral duties of administrative tasks within the facility and with inside the department, but I’m very fortunate. I really think that we have a very good group of heroes, leaders, and role models as correctional police officers and supervisors with the Middlesex County Department of Corrections and Youth Services. So, again, my job is extremely easy.

Henry: Yeah that’s great! So, If you could talk to us a little about what got you into your job in the first place? Why did you choose this profession?

Dave: Ok, well, that goes back to a long story, but it really started when I was five years old. My mother and father got divorced when I was five, and my mother worked three jobs in order to support my family which was me, my sister, and her at the time and, because she was working so many jobs, I was babysitted by my grandparents, my grandmother and my grandfather. And they lived in South Plainfield in a small little house. We lived in Plainfield and Piscataway. And, so, I remember this day very vividly. I used to love Batman, and I was playing with my grandmother on the parlor floor. It was the living room floor, but they called it the parlor floor. And we were watching Batman, and we were really waiting and anticipating my grandfather to get home from work. My grandmother was a stay at home mom. She never had a drivers license. She never went grocery shopping. She never wrote a check. Her whole life was to take care of the family, take care of the house, and to support the family. So, we were home and she was cooking dinner, preparing dinner for my grandfather, and my grandfather was on his way home. He was a machine shop operator, and, for his whole life he worked basically minimum wage and did that for the entire family. So we are sitting there and Batman came on TV, and I remember being excited about Batman being on TV, and I heard my grandfather’s Buick turn into the driveway. And I got extremely excited that grandpa was home. I saw, though, that my grandmother got a little nervous, and she stopped playing with me on the floor, and went into the kitchen right away. I thought to greet my grandfather. Nevertheless, my grandfather came through the door, and dinner wasn’t prepared. And I remember exactly what it was my grandmother was cooking that day. It was pork chops, and I believe it was some type of pasta and applesauce, and dinner wasn’t ready and my grandfather got mad. And it started off with a verbal argument and then it became physical, and, at some point, my grandfather was assaulting my grandmother and I remember, I don’t remember how. I definitely know it wasn’t my grandparents. But, out of nowhere, through the front door of the home, came a police officer. A South Plainfield police officer. And I remember his uniform. He had the dark blue pants, he had a light blue shirt on, he had the 8 point hat, he had a halster and a gun that went down one side of his leg and a baton that went down side the other, and he saved my grandmother’s life. And, not only did he save my grandmother’s life, but knowing now what I know, what I didn’t know then, there were no domestic violence laws, and he kind of picked this all up and put us back together as a family and left. And, that moment, when Batman was no longer my hero. That moment, that cop became my hero. And, so, from five years-old, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a police officer and be that hero. And, so, from that point on, I mean, if you look back at photographs of me from five up until I no longer wore a halloween costume, I was always dressed as a cop. I was that cop, and I always played cops and robbers with my friends, and I always watched cop shows on TV, and I really just wanted to be the cop. And when I saw a cop, when I saw an officer in uniform, a patrol car, I always wanted to go up and say hi and talk to them and be involved in what they were doing, so that was how it started for me. That’s where my thought process came into getting involved in law enforcement. Now fast forward and moving through childhood and through puberty and through grade school and middle school is when I really started to recognize that I was different. I didn’t know what gay was. I just knew that I really preferred to spend time with the other boys my age, other than the girls my age. And we did the same thing that kids do all the time. We played house and we played doctor, and we played army, and we rode our bikes and we did all kinds of things, and I just remember being attracted to the boys and not the girls. I didn’t know what it was. I was Roman Catholic. I was raised into a Roman Catholic family. We were religious but not overly religious. My ancestry and my ethnicity goes back to, I was born here, my grandparents and my parents were born here, but my grandparents on both sides were Italian and Polish, so we had a strong ethnic background as well, and I remember that being gay was not ok. I remember, if I could describe my grandfather, God rest his soul and I love him to death, he was the epitome of Archie Bunker. I don’t know if you, you guys are kind of young, but I don’t know if you remember the Archie Bunker show. It was a 70s sit-com, and Archie was very opinionated, and he was very biased, and, anyway, my grandfather had that, if you weren’t Italian you weren’t good, and my grandmother was Polish so that was a strange relationship to begin with, but, nevertheless, I’ve always wanted to be a cop. And then I knew I was gay or I knew I was different. I didn’t think that was going to be a cause to stop? I really didn’t understand that being gay wasn’t okay in police work, and it didn’t really...I didn’t really think aobut it. Now, going into highschool, I became a volunteer firefighter. I wanted to get involved in more helpful things and community things, and I remember high school there was a career day where a bunch of organizations came to the school, trying to recruit high school people, and I remember the New Jersey state Department of Corrections was there, and the Piscataway police was there, I graduated from Piscataway high school. Believe it or not, all the way from Florida was Broward County’s Sheriff's office, and they were trying to recruit people. They had some hard times finding police officers at that time in Florida. And, I applied for all of them. I expressed interest in all of them and, long story short, I took the test and I passed it, and I went down to Broward County, Florida to the Sheriff's Office and I took the test and I failed it. I failed the swimming portion of the test. I had to hold my nose when I went under water and that wasn’t acceptable for Broward’s Sheriff Office at the time. So, I came back kind of with my tail between my legs, and I got a letter in the mail from the State Department of Corrections saying “we want to hire you”. And, so, I remember getting that letter and going into the State Department of Corrections Academy and how proud I was to be in law enforcement. It was corrections. It wasn’t really the street police that I had thought about, but I knew that it was a good career and I knew that I started at nineteen. So, I knew it was potentially a stepping stone at that point. So, I get into corrections and I think everything is ok, but now I’m gay. And nobody knows. My parents don’t know, some very close friends maybe. We never really talked about my sexual orientation, but, again, it wasn’t on my mind. It wasn’t really a thought process. I was just so happy to be doing my dream job in law enforcement. So, I got into the academy, and, at the time, it was a live-in academy. You had to live in the barracks. And that’s when I first started to think about my sexual orientation which drove me deeper into the closet. This was 1989. It wasn’t okay to be gay. It wasn’t okay to be gay with religion. It definitely wasn’t okay to be gay in law enforcement, and it definitley wasn’t okay to be gay in corrections because that was a different type of law enforcement. So, I’m in the academy, living there, and I remember having an extreme attraction towards another recruit, but there was no possible way I was going to let anyone know it, and I lied a lot. I lied a lot about my relationships. I lied a lot about my home and I covered a lot of things up, and it pushed me deeper into the closet. Now, graduating the academy is when you find out what facility you are assigned to, and, at that time, I was assigned to the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center. That is the sex offender prison in the state of New Jersey. It’s right behind Rahway. It’s a fairly small facility, but it holds about 15 hundred at its capacity the convicted, the worst of the worst sex offenders in the state. So, I felt a little fortunate to get that position because I knew in that particular institution we weren’t fighting every day. It wasn’t physical, but it was a different type of inmate that you had care, custody, and control over and I was lucky. I was fortunate. It was close to home too. So, I was very fortunate about that. Getting into that facility, I was still in the closet. So I went into that facility and, again, didn’t tell anybody about my sexual orientation. I hid it. The one that I noticed right away, specific to that facility, is because there were a lot of convicted sex offenders, there were a lot of convicted pedophiles, and, so I overheard tones and thought processes, not only from inmates but from staff and officers that these pedophiles and the majority of the inmates were gay, and that drove me even deeper into the closet. I didn’t want anybody to know that I was gay, and I didn’t want them to think that that stereotype of being a pedophile and being gay was true, and if they did, they might have thought that I was a pedophile. So, and I will never forget the one day and I was sitting down in the officers dining room, fairly shortly into my career. It was within the first year. And the officer’s dining room was separated by bars and on the other side of the bars was the first floor corridor and the inmates would move from one place to another, and I was sitting down next to a group of colleagues, my friends, other officers, my new blue family, and the guy who was sitting down next to me, we were eating. We had about a half hour to eat, and we were talking about the day and the job and a lot of different things, and I remember that a fairly feminine inmate walked across the first floor corridor, and the officer sitting next to me, my friend, he stopped eating. He stood up. He pointed at the inmate and he said “look at that fucking faggot. That’s why god created AIDs.” And then he sat down and he just kept on eating and, like nothing, and so, for me, in that moment I couldn’t eat anymore. I stayed there. I didn’t show that that affected me. Again, I’m no inmate lover. I had a respect and understanding for them being human beings. I understand that at this particular facility a lot of these inmates had mental health issues as well as committing criminal acts, but I was no inmate lover. And, so, when I heard the officer say that immediately I thought “well that’s an inmate”, but then I thought “wait a minute. It’s not just any inmate. This officer selected that inmate because he was effeminate and appeared to be gay.” and, I was like, wow what would happen if this officer, who I thought was my friend, or any of the officers found out that I was gay and for the rest of that shift my mind played games with me. After that shift I walked down to the locker room, I hung my uniform up, and I left the jail knowing that that was the last day I was ever going to be there. I basically quit without quitting, and in typical Davi D’amico fashion, I went home home. At this time I was living in Jersey City in one of my first apartments, and I packed a small bag and I drove to the Newark Airport, and I got on a plane, and I went on vacation to Puerto Rico, one of my favorite places to be, and I never quit, never called out sick, never did anything and, at that time, there were cellphones, but we had pagers for stuff like that, and I remember having a phone that had an answering machine in my apartment, so I’m laying on the beach and I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do now. I can’t be a cop, I can’t be in corrections, so what am I going to do now? And I remember answering, checking my answering machine. It was, at the time, the chief of the jail John Schwall, I will never forget that man, and John Schwall was the epitome of a correction officer. He walked around with an unlit cigar. He was a tough guy. He called himself a jail guard, and he worked up through the ranks to become the chief, and he left a message on my machine he said “hey kid, you’re wop”. Now, today you’re not able to use that term, but, back then, that meant without pay. You were able to if you didn’t call in, and he said “kid, if you are not in my office on Monday morning you’re fired.” So, I said “no” to myself, you are not going to fire me, and I flew back, and I went to the jail that Monday morning, and I took my badge and my ID card and I put it on his desk, and I quit, and he sat back and he said “Why? What are you doing? You’re 19. You can retire at 44 with a full pension. At the time he said to me, you are one of my best cops.” I always took the second shift and I had a really good reputation. Long story short, he wouldn’t let me quit and for about about thirty minutes we had this argument back and forth “Chief I don’t want to do the job anymore. I want to quit. Blah blah”. He kept on trying to talk me not into quitting. Finally, when I felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I said “and I’m gay!” I thought that by telling him that, and that was the first time it had ever blurted it out of my mouth, and it was out of anger. I just wanted to get out of there you know? And he wasn’t letting me go. He sat back, and he looked at me, and he said “So what?”. And I’ll never forget it. I will never forget the look on his face. He said to me “I don’t care what you do in your bed at night. You’re a good cop. You’ve got a great career, and I want you to stay.”I didn’t know what to say. He said to me “Look, you’re suspended for five days.” He suspended me for not calling out sick, consequences to my behavior, “and you’re going to come back.” So, I got my uniform. I came back to work. And, that day at line up, with all the rest of my second shift colleagues, because there was rumors going around about “What was D’amico gone? Where was he? What happened? Why was he suspended?” The rumor mill going on. So, I came in and I said, at line up, I said “I’m gay.”, and that day also is a day that I will never forget because that day I found out who are my real friends. And there were cops that walked up to me that day and shook my hand, and they said, frankly, that “you got more balls than anybody I know.” Other cops walked up to me that day and said “You’re full of shit you’re lying. You’re not gay.” and this was just an excuse and to get out of that suspension or whatever it was. And then there were cops that never never talked to me again. Now, they always had my back. I never felt unsafe, but they never talked to me again. An interesting thing happened right after that line up broke. The interesting thing was, within minutes, the inmate population found out that I was gay. And then, I didn’t know what to do, but there were inmates walking up to me saing “D”, they called me D instead of D’amico, “Don’t worry we got your back.”, and I didn’t know how to take that. I didn’t know how to take that message coming from inmates. Right, you know? As a correction officer you are always outnumbered. The ratio is about 66 to 1. And, so, you’re back up is close but a lot of things can happen in the time that it takes for you to call for help, and for the help to get there. And, if the inmates help you, you have a better chance of surviving whatever the assault is. So, I didn’t know how to take that, and then the inmates would say to me, and I got to tell you about this cop, and this cop and this cop, and they were kinda outing other cops and I was like “Look, I don’t want to hear any of that. I don’t want to hear any. Stop. Thank you but, stop.” But this went from, on that day, in that officer’s dining room, it went from not knowing if these cops were going to ever back me up. Not knowing if they were going to do something to assault me or get rid of me. Not knowing if they were going to, If I had a shank inside of me, if they were going to stop the blood from bleeding because they might have thought that I had HIV or AIDS because I was gay. All these stereotypes. And, it went from that to now, being open, being accepted by not only the majority of the officers, but also by the inmate population. So, I know that was a long story, but that’s really the start of my career. I came out on the job. I came out on the job because of anger, and, from there, my career flourished. From there I was openly gay. I couldn’t go back in the closet, so that’s when other things started to happen for me.


Olivia: Wow, you are a great storyteller. So, I read a little interview they did about you a while ago. I think for Newjersey.com or something? There was a little tidbit on how you were impacted by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and, although you were not part of the armed forces, you kind of worked in the same lot of work. A lot of armed forces veterans ended up working for the police, vice versa, and a lot of that happens. So, how were you personally impacted by Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy because you said you did come out in 1989?

D’amico: yeah it was 1989, right.

Olivia: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell happened soon after that.

D’amico: Yes, so law enforcement is a paramilitary organization right? We do a lot of our training, a lot of our processes, are uniform and paramilitary. So, you’re right. I never had the pleasure of serving in our armed forces, and I thank the men and women who do that every day for what they have done, especially coming up on memorial day. I never did that, but I did decide to go into public service as a police officer, and, just like the military, it was just like a don’t ask don’t tell scenario. The way I can describe it, they didn’t care what your sexual orientation was unless they knew, and if they knew that is when they took care of it. It was more of are you a good cop or are you a bad cop? Because if you are a good cop and we can trust you, and you can back us up and you do your job correctly and efficiently, and you’re part of the team, then your sexual orientation doesn’t matter. But, if you’re a bad cop, your sexual orientation doesn’t matter either. We don’t want you as part of our team. Now add in the stereoptyes and the thought process of being gay or being lesbian and, transgender wasn’t even talked about back then, and so I thought that by them knowing, it was almost like the female cops. I had to prove myself. I had to prove myself more. So, I had the opportunity of masking my sexual orientation and proving myself as a good cop prior to coming out, but once I did that I couldn't do that anymore. So, once I moved through these different organizations, onto Asbury Park, onto the Prosecutor's office, onto Broward Sheriff's office in Florida for a very short time, and now lucky enough to be the chief investigator for Middlesex county. I’m out, there is no hiding it. And I shouldn’t say I should have to hide it, but it goes back to the paramilitary thought process. If you’re a good cop, what you do in your bedroom doesn’t matter. If you’re a bad cop, we don’t want you. So, that’s the thought process, and really that’s another reason why I embraced being appointed to internal affairs at the time that I was. I don’t know if that kind of answers it? I was never in the military. I don’t know how kind of the military is affected, but I know how my friends were affected by it. I was extremely upset that somebody could be fired from their job. The military is a job. It comes with a pension. It comes with responsibilities because they were gay. That couldn’t happen in law enforcement because you were gay, but they could do things to kind of like get rid of you if they found out you were gay. They could never fire you because you were gay like they could if you were in the military, but they could make your life miserable if they found out you were gay and they didn’t like it.

Olivia: That makes sense. So, you just mentioned that you worked with Asbury Park, so in your time working with Asbury Park you spent time assisting with Jersey Pride and actin gas a bodyguard for different politicians and diplomats who were speaking so, just as more of a lighter question, who is your favorite person that you have met through that experience and why?

D’amico: So, the favorite person that I have met through that experience is the, was the person who organized Asbury Pride, Laura Popel. She inspired me so much with what she was doing and how she was able to get a team of people together to make Pride such a great event. At the time, there were a lot of things going on in Asbury Park. It was not the Asbury that it is today. That’s for sure. It was riddled with crime. It was riddled with homelessness. We had a big drug problem. We had a homeless problem. We had a prostitution problem. There were a lot of things going in Asbury Park. Property values were low. We were the lowest paid police force in the county even though we did the most work. So, there was a lot going on, but Laura brought the, recognized the LGBT community in Asbury and recognized the open front draw and prime property and then put this together, and when I had the opportunity to meet her, she inspired me, there is no doubt about it. In the beginning when I was in Asbury, I was also, well let me go back to why I even applied to become an Asbury Park Police officer. I was very happy in corrections. My goal in corrections was to move up the ranks. My goal in corrections was to be the commissioner some day. I wanted to stay with that department and move through. And I enjoyed working for that department, and, by the way, it is the largest law enforcement agency in the entire state. Some people think the state police. The state police has about 3,000, 35 hundred troopers., when you are talking about state correctional police officers you are talking about over 7,000. So, it is the largest law enforcement agency in the state, and it’s the most respected because you are on the front lines everyday working with people that society doesn’t want to deal with and your job is the care, custody, and control of human beings and that is the hardest thing anyone can be asked to do whether it is work related or non-work related is to manage human behavior. We can’t manage our own selves. We can’t manage our significant others. We can’t manage our kids and our family, but in this situation you are a human being asked to manage a total stranger under very stressful circumstances so law enforcement is a very difficult job. I got a call from the municipal court judge in Asbury park, Burt Morosik, who still is practicing law and at the time he was the appointed municipal court judge. I was a member of an organization called GOAL, Gay Officers Action League, and so was Judge Morosik, and he said to me “Asbury Park would love to have a gay officer, why don’t you apply?” and so I said “well I’m very happy in corrections. I’m moving up, I like what I’m doing” he says “But we would like to have you in Asbury.” So basically he kind of rented me his house in Asbury and I moved there and I took the test and I passed it, and I got hired by Asbury park, and then I was already out. I was already in the open. So, I also started teaching at the Monmouth County Police Academy Cultural Diversity, specific to LGBTQ. At the time it was LGBT, not Q, but, so, I was out. I was teaching every brand new cop in the county, so everybody knew me as the gay cop. And, so, when Laura put this together, she was doing what she was doing in Asbury, it only felt right that the police department assigned me to community outreach to assist Laura and to make sure that everything went smoothly. So, that was how I met Laura, and when dignitaries including politicians and non-politicans went up on stage, I was lucky enough to be the government official that opened up, introduced them, and that was a really rewarding experience. I think that is what made me so comfortable talking to the public. I mean, I was kind of forced into it, but it was so rewarding, and, through that, I also met Bab Siperstein, the late Bab Siperstein, and she just inspired me so much because I recognized how difficult it was for her to live in her skin and to walk a day in her shoes. It was just unbelievable. And then I met governors and I met politicians, I’ll never forget, the whole time Frank Vallone, our congressman, was there, always every step of the way, during every one from the beginning up until now, it’s an honor to know him and it’s an honor for him to be our representative in where I live now in Highland Park, and even back then in Monmouth County when I lived there, and then I got to meet Governor Corzon and that was amazing too. Something crazy happened with that too but as this started to evolve, we started to put together a community outreach booth at Pride, and we would talk to LGBT individuals about joining the ranks of law enforcement, like recruiting, and we would also talk to them about bias and hate and biased crimes, and as that started rolling I invited the state police, and I knew there was a gay male state trooper who was a friend of mine, and he wasn’t out. I didn’t even think about that he wasn’t out. I just knew he was my friend, and I knew he was gay, and he was a trooper, and how great would it be to have a state police officer as apart of this community outreach thing there, so I invited him, and through the ranks of the state police he came, and he came in uniform. He never revealed that he was gay, but interestingly enough, the time that I had to introduce Governor Corzon, I kind of like forgot. So, I got up there and said “and by the way, we are honored we are joined today by the first ever openly gay male trooper. Well, he wasn’t openly gay. He was gay, but he wasn’t openly gay, and man he came out on stage and he said a few words and when goes off the stage he goes “Oh my god what did you just do?” and I go “what do you mean” and he goes “you just outed me!”. I’m like “Oh my God I’m so sorry!” I didn’t think about it. Even today, he is my partner today in with Garden State Equality Law Enforcement Liaisons, even today, even though it was very difficult for him, and think about this, first ever openly gay male trooper, now there was gay male troopers before, but they weren’t out, and there were a lot of open lesbian troopers. Still are, but for him to be the first openly gay male trooper and to wear that, that’s amazing, and what he’s doing now is even more amazing, so that’s trooper, Lieutenant now, trooper John Hayes. So, I’m sorry I keep on going on, I apologize. You guys are bored with me, tell me to shut up, cut me off.

Henry: No, It’s great, it’s amazing, we love to hear it!

Olivia: It’s very interesting and very very moving. Again you are a great story teller.

D’amico: Thank you.

Olivia: I really enjoy it.

Henry: So, in your work with the police force you have been involved with teaching and lecturing police officers in training, teaching them to not use slurs and teaching everyone about equality in that sense. So, what are some lessons that you’ve learned about social justice, as well as how we educate, how we teach social justice in our individual communities

D’amico: You know, like I said, when I first got thrusted into teaching at the monmouth county police academy, that’s how it all started, they invited me. So, Monmouth County was so forward moving. Even though you wouldn’t think so because it's predominantly been a Republican run county, but, with this respect, with law enforcement and the police academy, they were the first. Monmouth County was the first ever to have this type of training under, at time, Director Wesley Mayo, and he brought different communities in to talk to the recruits about dealing with those communities and policing those communities, and what these recruits could do better to continue the trust or to rebuild the branches of broken trust, that was really the most important thing. Minority communities, no matter what they are or what label they fall under, they don’t trust the police. There are a lot of different reasons why. I always like to say, nobody likes being told what to do. No one. And what’s the police officer’s job? Unfortunately, it’s to tell people what to do. Oftentimes it's under stressful situations. Police officers are in uniforms, and they’re intimidating and it sets up a very poor bridge of trust, so there are obstacles in front of these officers, even before they got on the road about maintaining that trust and policing a very diverse community because in New Jersey I believe we have the most diverse community. Especially at the time in Monmouth County and Asbury Park, it was extremely diverse, still is today. So, one of the things I learned going in was the rookie cops, the younger cops, born in 1989, 90ish, they all knew someone who was LGBT. Some of them didn’t want to admit it. Some of them didn’t want to say it, even then, but they knew somebody. So, the rookie cops, the younger generation of officers, were more understanding of what it was like to walk in a LGBT person’s shoes. I found that the in service class or the older cops had that stereotype in their head about what an LGBT person was like because a lot of them didn’t know someone, and it was now. And, so, that education process was a little bit more difficult, but it was so rewarding because these cops would ask questions. They would ask the craziest questions. One time I got in trouble because they were asking me questions about my role, as you would say, being very curt, but they were asking me if I was the top or the bottom or the giver or the receiver, and, you know, I told them they could ask me whatever question they wanted, but I didn’t expect that one. So, when I answered it with vulgarity, a couple of other recruits, females, got offended by my answer, and they went and reported me to the director, and then I had a big meeting with the director and we talked about it, and I expressed an apology to the recruits, but that education process is so important because what it did because it got that heterosexual police officer with power and control, to try and understand what it was like to be somebody that is not them. To come for help, and really that is what it was all about. It was trying to get that police officer to understand what it was to walk a day in the communities’ shoes and what to expect when dealing with certain communities. So, it was extremely rewarding. I am so fortunate that I was a part of it, and still I am a part of it today. I still teach at a lot of academies. I go across the country lecturing. I do a lot of bias stuff in schools, and I still teach the officers that are under my command at Middlesex County. I love teaching. The only reason I got my masters degree was to teach, and, so I love to teach. I hope that answers the question.

Henry: Yeah totally.

Olivia: Amazing. 10/10. So, for our last question, as we are a New Jersey based publication, we ask all of our interviewees the same question. What do you think makes the New Jersey queer community different from others around the country and even around the world?

D’amico: Well, in answering that question I’ll say that I believe that New Jersey is the most diverse state. I really do. We are surrounded by two major cities, New York and Philadelphia. We are very densely populated, and the jurisdiction I live in in Highland Park I’m, this is no joke, if you walked outside my door and asked everybody to come outside their town home and line up on the street and took a picture of it, it could be the front page of Diversity Magazine. We have the Asian Rutgers students that are studying for their Doctorate, we have me and my husband, the two gay guys, we have the Asian Indian family, next to them are the two lesbian parents that work at Rutgers. We have the Jewish Rabbi. We have the African American family, the Hispanic family, I’m telling you. So that diversity, inclusive of the LGBTQ community makes New Jersey a really special place. It makes us a special place for a lot of different reasons. Number 1, that diversity forces acceptance and inclusion, and it forces people to try and understand what it's like to be their neighbor, and, because we live so close to one another, and we have so many different cultures and backgrounds and sexual orientations, it gives us opportunities. I really think New Jersey gives us opportunities to live in a state that understands that that diversity is what makes us stronger and, instead, doesn’t divide us. Like, I hear stories about different states and rural atmospheres and positions where the LGBTQ family has problems or has issues because there is not that much diversity or inclusion or understanding. I think we are very lucky in New Jersey. I also think we are very lucky in New Jersey because of our laws. When it comes to criminal activity and bias laws we have the strictest, toughest bias legislation I believe in the country. We have the most protected classes, including LGBTQ. There is nine protected classes. Our bias statute is very difficult to prosecute because you need certain things. One of those things is that you need to prove that the victim was selected because of who they are so first amendment of freedom of speech or words can’t be used to prosecute in a bias case and a lot of times a victim of bias thinks they are a victim of a bias crime and they weren’t, and it’s law enforcement’s job to explain it to them. Anyway, I’m rambling. Because of our diversity and because of our dense population and because of our government, I think that this is one of the best places for anybody that is LGBTQ to live, and I love New Jersey. I left New Jersey for about a year after I retired from the prosecutor's office to go to Florida, and I went to a place where it was very accepting of LGBT people in Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, but I was recruited to come back to New Jersey, and I stepped of the plane to come get into Newark Airport, and I felt home again, and I’m very proud and honored to be a part of one of the largest and best law enforcement in Middlesex County which is the department of Corrections and Youth Services, and I’m very proud to be back here building or trying to rebuild a bridge between all communities and law enforcement, and bringing people together to create levels of understanding, I think it’s easier for me to do that in Jersey than anywhere else.

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