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Weinberg: Remembering Babs, a transgender activist who blazed a path for LGBTQ rights

By Loretta Weinberg | February 5, 2019 |

I’ve known Babs for a long time.

She was in my office when I got the call from the delivery room that my first grandchild had been born – that baby is now 15 years old. At that moment, Babs shared with me that she was actually a grandfather because she had grandchildren who knew her before her transition. Just recently, though, she told me she had a new grandchild who will grow up knowing her only as grandma.

In many ways, her story mirrors our story as a state and as a nation. In a lifespan, a relatively short period of time, the rights for and inclusion of the LGBTQ community have traveled a remarkable distance. That is not to say we don’t have a ways to go, but we are here, in large part, thanks to the unwavering leadership of Babs Siperstein and people like her.

She made her official transition from Barry to Barbra in 2000, when she was 50 years old. Her advocacy from that point on, as though she was making up for lost time, did not stop. Her pursuit of equality and justice led her to the apex of this country’s institutions with one unabashed and uncompromising message: equal rights and equal protections under the law, for all.

In 2006, Babs spearheaded the addition of gender identity to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Just as a person cannot be fired for the color of their skin, largely thanks to Babs, they also cannot be fired or discriminated against because of the gender by which they identify.

Today, I remember fondly the night in February, 2007, when I presided over the civil union of Steven Goldstein and Daniel Gross – the first civil union in the state. Babs was involved in the original coalition led by Steven Goldstein that championed the first domestic partnership bill. It may seem like a tiny step now, compared to today’s standards of full marriage equality, but it was a major victory at the time.

As one of just 24 nationally recognized LGBTQ civil rights activists, in 2009, she co-authored the “Dallas Principles,” a set of eight guiding principles to achieve full LGBT equality. The first principle, of which, embodies the tenacity of Babs Siperstein: “Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.”

For those who knew Babs, the second principle reads as her own personal constitution: “We will not leave any part of our community behind”.

She spent her time, in her words, “showing up.” As part of more organizations and commissions than I can list here, including Garden State Equality and the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, she eventually became the first openly transgendered member of the Democratic National Committee.

Of course, I would be remiss to leave out the New Jersey state law that bears her name. The Babs Sipertein Law was passed last year but just went into effect Feb. 1. The law makes it easier for people to change their official birth certificate to match their gender identity.

As statements pour in from all over the state, and the country, I remember both a giant of the LGBTQ community and a friend. Babs led her life with courage and authenticity. Through her example, she taught the rest of us about true equality.

She will be sorely missed by her friends and family, as a grandmother (and as a grandfather). Her legacy lives on and cannot be forgotten because we feel it every day. It is felt by all of us, transgendered or not, because we all benefit from a fairer, more inclusive and more just society.

If her passing can bring to mind one final thing, beyond her stunning achievements and her magnetic personality, let it be a reminder of all the work we have yet to do. The journey towards equality continues, there is still a long way to go. Lucky for us, we have Babs’ example as a guide.

Loretta Weinberg is the state Senate Majority Leader.

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