HRC releases the Municipal Equality Index—Montclair and three NJ towns receive a perfect score

Peter Yacobellis at Disability Pride Parade in Montclair, NJ
Peter Yacobellis at Disability Pride Parade in Montclair, NJ on May, 15 of 2021.

Montclair Town Council member Peter Yacobellis is very proud of the score of 100 for his town

The Human Rights Campaign released the 2021 Municipal Equality Index for communities across the United States today. Montclair stood out this year. It increased its score by 22 points to reach a perfect score of 100 for the first time ever. “We didn’t do this incrementally—we dreamt big, went for it and then knocked it out of the park.”, said Councilor Peter Yacobellis who also serves as Founder and President of Out Montclair

Montclair now joins Jersey City, Hoboken, and Princeton as a perfect score municipality in the State of New Jersey. This follows the town government’s enactment of a sweeping LGBTQ Equality Agenda since last year. The Equality Agenda was led by Montclair Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis. He is the township’s first-ever openly LGBTQ elected official.

Montclair successfully enacted new laws to protect people on the basis of gender identity and expression in township procurement and hiring practices and required that all single-user restrooms in the Township be designated as gender neutral by Dec. 19, 2021. The effort included designating a LGBTQ+ Community Liaison at Town Hall, re-affirming the state’s ban on conversion therapy, flying a progress pride flag at Town Hall and supporting LGBTQ teens and seniors with public programming.

Montclair also created Out Montclair, a LGBTQ Pride organization. That effort was led by Councilor Yacobellis and Montclair Civil Rights Commission Members Madeline Gale and Reubena Spence. The Township received additional credit in the scoring for the creation of the new organization. Yacobellis’ 2020 election to the Township Council and the government’s overall support of the LGBTQ community also contributed.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the United States and annually scores towns, cities, corporations and other institutions on their efforts to create inclusive and safe environments for the LGBTQ community. Previous scores for Montclair show a gradual increase over the lasat three years. The scores were as follows: 2020: 78; 2019: 71; 2018: 58.

“Sometimes us elected officials get credit for carrying the baton across the finish line,” said Councilor Yacobellis. “But I want to be clear that this has been a years-long relay. In no particular order I must thank the people responsible for sparking this journey: everyday citizens and specifically members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation who saw this as a red flag years ago and embarked on an effort to work with our township staff and government to move the needle. I also want to thank several specific Montclair Township employees: Town Manager Tim Stafford and Township Attorney Ira Karasick for their steadfast and unabashed support; Officer Glenda Rivera for her work as the Montclair Police Department LGBTQ+ Community Liaison and Bruce Morgan, our Affirmative Action Officer and LGBTQ+ Community Liaison and their colleagues who have been leading this work for years. He also thanked colleagues on the Council who supported the measures in 2021. They include: Councilor Bob Russo, Councilor Lori Price Abrams and Mayor Spiller.

“Garden State Equality is incredibly proud of Montclair for receiving a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2021 Municipal Equality Index,” said Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “We particularly want to applaud the leadership of Council Member Peter Yacobellis, the town’s first LGBTQ+ elected official in enacting a comprehensive set of laws and policies over the last 18 months that resulted in this score. Our further thanks to Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller and the other members of the Town Council who unequivocally supported these efforts,” he added.

“This is a really great moment for the trans community in Montclair. I want to thank Councilor Peter Yacobellis for his leadership in pushing the equality agenda and for the support Mayor Spiller, Councilor Price Abrams and Councilor Russo lent to its complete enactment.”, said Celeste Fiore, Founder and Chair of the (Montclair-based) Trans Affirming Alliance and Board Member with Out Montclair. “While we celebrate the enactment of protections in Township hiring and procurement practices and in the requirement for gender neutral restrooms in Montclair, I also hope that the Township will look to include gender affirming healthcare in its policy for its workers in the years ahead as well as creating more services to make sure this most marginalized community is further supported.”

“This is a terrific moment for Montclair and in particular our LGBTQ+ community,” said Christa Rapoport, Chair, Montclair Civil Rights Commission