Recently we had the privilege to interview Reginald Bledsoe, an LGBTQ activist and public servant. Although his specialty lies in the realm of education, Bledsoe provided plenty of poignant insight into LGBTQ activism in his home city of Newark, as well as New Jersey as a whole. Born and raised in Newark by his father and grandmother, Bledsoe is a New Jerseyan through and through. Even after graduating highschool, Bledsoe found himself inside New Jersey’s tight borders and attended Newark Tech for his undergraduate degree. After graduation, Bledsoe moved to Montclair State University which he, to this day, reveres for their progressive attitude toward policy and education. Speaking on Montclair's accepting atmosphere, Bledsoe said “I would say that I want to go back to my years at Montclair State. I enjoyed those years. I wish I could have been as active with LGBTQ related issues, but I do know, the university, had one of the first LGBTQ centers on a public state institution campus and, just not too long ago, I was able to go there and speak on a panel to talk about the work I’ve been doing in Newark around the LGBTQ inclusive curriculum”. Bledsoe regards his New Jersey education as an aspect of his life that he will be forever grateful for, which is supported by his continued involvement in it. At present, Bledsoe works for the state supporting curricular decisions and implementing them into various school districts. Speaking on his specific role within New Jersey’s education department, Bledsoe said “I work as Acting Deputy Director for the Office of Civic and Social Engagement and that office was created under Commissioner Lamont Repollet and the office provides technical support to districts and superintendents with engaging their external stakeholders.” External stakeholders may include organizations such as the PTA or other civilian groups that assist in maintaining a quality education for the children of a particular town or district. With that, Bledsoe’s work fits into a larger theme: making education accessible and comfortable to all.
In addition to his work in education, Bledsoe is an active participant in New Jersey Child Assault Prevention or NJCAP as many dedicated employees and volunteers refer to it. Addressing the purpose of the organization, Bledsoe told us “supporting students and making sure that they are healthy, safe and knowing that there is a legal right as a student in New Jersey that you have to feel safe at home and school. We rally against bullying of any kind and just making sure that they are supported wholly.” This maintains Bledsoe’s larger theme of work, a theme that has been pervasive within his own life: keeping kids safe, and protecting the rights and lives of all children.
Although, again, Bledsoe’s work lies primarily in education, we spent ample time discussing issues within the LGBTQ community. Bledsoe is an active member of both Newark Pride and One Voice, an LGBTQ organization based in Newark. When discussing his work with Newark Pride he expressed his disappointment over its cancellation this year. However, Bledsoe did mention a potential virtual alternative in order to support local businesses and LGBTQ members of the Newark community that are in need of recognition at the moment. Although there was a melancholic tone regarding this year's celebration, when speaking on his past experiences Bledsoe said, “I see this as an opportunity to highlight LGBTQ culture from the arts to music to policy in a week long activity so I love it. I look forward to celebrating it next year”. In addition to his work with Newark Pride, Bledsoe is a frequent and essential participant in One Voice for LGBTQ Issues. As many are unfamiliar with the organization, Bledsoe gave a brief explanation as to the origins and purpose of the organization itself: “One Voice is an organization that we decided to create because you have, for example, Newark Pride who does a lot of activity planning and a little bit of advocacy on that end and then you have the Newark LGBTQ Commission that does policy and then you have the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board and you also have other LGBTQ affiliated organizations and businesses in the city and we felt as though, through Rutgers University oral history project, that we needed to get together at one table and hash our differences and just pretty much build a platform and an agenda for all the LGBTQ people in the city of Newark and Essex County and to start really operating in a similar space not everyone is doing their own little thing on their own tracks”. The message of One Voice is an incredibly powerful one in our day and age, being that of unity. Even though we may be working towards the same end goal, when divided we merely slow down the process. Working as a unified front is when the brunt of the work may be done.
In addition to speaking on his work specifically with the LGBTQ community, Bledsoe addressed the challenges he has faced as well, coupled with the recognition he has been able to garner, as a result of being an LGBTQ politician. Speaking on the opportunity his identity has afforded him, Bledsoe said “There have been wonderful opportunities thatmy LGBTQ and queer identity has afforded me, but there has also been challenges as well. Just trying to figure out that space where you can live and really work in, and I’ve managed to kind of keep a balance, and we are all in this together and we have to make sure that we are lifting each other up and not leaving anyone behind, but it’s been rewarding. I’ve been blessed in my life to be given the opportunity to have a family that supports me, but also being given so many professional opportunities because of my identity as an LGBTQ person, a queer person”. However, along with the blessings, Bledsoe’s identity has also brought him hardship within his career, especially with the intersectionalities of his identity and the implications of what it means to be African American and gay in America: “Like I said it’s been a struggle because there are still those challenges where, like, the black church is not that accepting of queer identity and there are some racial challenges where, in the LGBTQ community, we have to warm up to each other. We come from all different backgrounds, and I’ve been able to get a lot of the folks in our community to just shift their lens a little bit because we all come from different backgrounds and, oftentimes black LGBTQ folks, have a chip on their shoulder sometimes because of dealing with racial profiling and racism”. Bledsoe continues to speak out about his own identities, and how he tries to juggle them. As a result, his mission is to mend the barriers between his community.
Our goal with this project is to spotlight those voices who are often not heard, and to share them in their totality. Though we try to fit it into a short summary, much of the most poignant parts of his story have had to be compressed or cut for the purpose of length. With that said, we recommend you all go and read the transcript! It’s posted alongside this article.