COURTESY MCRC
Montclair Civil Rights Commission is focusing on the report card for LGBTQ rights and what Montclair can do to improve. From left: Bruce Morgan, David Toler, Jennifer Otero, Aaron Potenza and Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien.
COURTESY MCRC

BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local

Montclair scored only 58 out of 100 points on Human Right’s Campaign’s 2018 Municipal Equality Index for LBGTQ rights. As a result, the Montclair Civil Rights Commission is trying to raise the town’s score for next year.

“We try to promote harmony within the town and collaborate with organizations, so we wanted to talk to LBGTQ groups to find out what’s happening in our town and what we can do better and improve our score,” said Christa Rapoport, the Commission’s chairperson.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LBGTQ civil rights advocacy organization, rated 506 municipalities across the nation. In New Jersey, the 13 municipalities and their scores are as follows: Asbury Park (95), Elizabeth (59), Hoboken (100), Jersey City (100), Lambertville (91), Montclair (58), New Brunswick (51), Newark (64), Ocean Grove (60), Paterson (62), Princeton (84), Trenton (61), and Woodbury (100). Five criteria considered include non-discrimination laws, the municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LBGTQ equality.  

“There’s litany of things they consider such as inclusive [public employee] benefits, which also covers funding for sex reassignment surgery, [gender neutral] bathrooms in public spaces, and other factors. A [gender neutral] bathroom at town hall and Edgemont Park, and an LBGTQ liaison for the police department could raise our score,” Rapoport said. “The CRC fills the goal as a commission to the council for civil rights, which includes the LBGTQ community. Things like an anti-bullying policy, safe space at the library and homeless shelters, especially for trans individuals are already in place,” Rapoport said.

Although the Commission can help facilitate LBGTQ equality, individuals, especially transsexuals, who reveal their gender identity face obstacles beginning at home.  

Rapoport  is currently counseling two trans youthes having problems with their parents.

“I try to find referrals for them, including one for a homeless shelter because they were going to be kicked out by the parent. Trans individuals can feel lonely experience and experience discrimination. To that extent we address issues. One individual emailed me and said their mom yelled at them, thinks they’re a traitor and brainwashed. The person wanted to talk to a counselor instead of the mom. PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc.] is an organization of parents of LBGTQ individuals. I may join to understand more,” Rapoport said, adding there are 51 varieties of gender identity.

Since the HRC report came out, Montclair has been proactive and worked with Asbury Park-based Garden State Equality, which has an office in Montclair.

“This past year, Montclair adopted a health benefits plan to cover transition-related care. It’s moving on a non-discriminatory policy regarding professional contracts. We strongly suggested a point person to manage issues regarding LBGTQ interactions and outcomes with law enforcement. A liaison can serve as an advocate,” said Jon Oliveira, Communications Director for Garden State Equality.

The organization helps municipalities bump up their scores. Even towns like Montclair that are cultural progressive need improvement.

“There’s no way to measure how progressive a town is, because if it’s progressive, people don’t seek ordinances to provide protections and remedies. But without policy in place, towns could run into trouble,” Oliveira said.

Thirteen states including New Jersey passed laws that prohibit students from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Inclusivity applies to access to facilities, sports teams, and clubs. Montclair has at least one gender-neutral bathroom in each of its schools.