LGBT Assemblyman Reed Gusciora continues to fight

NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora was the first NJ State government legislator to be an out politician
NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora was the first NJ State government legislator to be an out politician

As a member of New Jersey’s General Assembly, Democrat Reed Gusciora champions for the state every day. Whether fighting for same-sex marriage, legalizing medical marijuana, protecting the rights of workers, saving the environment, or crusading for animal rights, he is a strong advocate for the community.

Reed Gusciora was elected to the General Assembly in 1996, and serves the 15th Legislative District made up of towns in both Mercer, and Hunterdon counties. Born in Passaic, New Jersey and moving to Jamesburg, Assemblyman Gusciora did not have any family members in politics. However, both of his parents worked for the state government, and were political activists in the community. He said, “They taught me that it was important to stay involved, no matter what. Beyond that, though, I didn’t have many overtly “political” experiences until I went to college. The Mayor of Jamesburg, where I grew up, took me to Washington, D.C. for Bill Bradley’s swearing in, which inspired my participation in Student Council at the Catholic University of America. Ultimately, I was made Student Council President my senior year!”

New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), the first openly gay member of the New Jersey Legislature
New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), the first openly gay member of the New Jersey Legislature

After graduating from C.U.A., Reed worked on Capitol Hill for a Progressive Democrat named Mike Synar. “That experience really helped me determine that I wanted to stay involved in law and politics as a career,” he said. “I didn’t get my start in New Jersey politics until I was at Seton Hall Law School. I worked as a legal intern for the Assembly Majority Office, which put me in contact with some people who gave me unique opportunities to get involved. Beyond what I did in the office, they also had me running a campaign in East Rutherford, where Democrats were projected to lose. I used what political knowledge I’d accumulated up until that point to turn that race into a victory.”

Gusciora was the first openly gay member in the NJ Legislature, followed by Assemblyman Tim Eustace. Was it hard for him to come out? “Honestly, I didn’t find it hard to come out, because I never did, I was outed! New Jersey’s PBS station, back in 2006, was interviewing me about the Lewis v. Harris case; right after the decision came out,” he said. As we all know, the court ruled in Lewis v. Harris that the State’s marriage laws violated the right to equal protection enshrined in the State’s constitution, and resulted in the creation of the Civil Unions system. Anyway, as we were finishing up, the interviewer asked me if I was gay. I asked him if he needed a date! We laughed, but ultimately I told him that yes, I was. That seemed to embarrass him a little bit, because he started apologizing right away, and promised me he wouldn’t use that segment on air. So, imagine my shock when 20 minutes later I was being declared New Jersey’s first openly gay Assemblyman on television! I can only guess that one of their reporters must have heard the gossip, and was unable to pass it up!”

Reed Gusciora represents Mercer and Hunterdon Counties in the New Jersey Assembly
Reed Gusciora represents Mercer and Hunterdon Counties in the New Jersey Assembly

Fighting for marriage equality is just one of the many accolades of Assemblyman Gusciora, even if it meant standing up to Gov. Christie. “Before the Garden State Equality v. Dow ruling in 2013, we had been fighting hard in the legislature to legalize same-sex marriages,” he said. “We had actually succeeded in passing a bill through both the Senate and the Assembly. It wasn’t much of a shock, but Governor Christie vetoed the bill. Then, he had a press conference, saying that the issue was better left to the voters at the ballot box, and following that up by saying that issues such as desegregation in Southern States should’ve been left to the voters as well. As you can imagine, that drew the ire of most of the Democratic Caucus, but my press release, which compared him to the two segregationist Governors that would’ve agreed with him, George Wallace, and Lester Maddox, got special attention when he called me “numbnuts” in response. And I think, in many ways, it did help indirectly, by increasing public attention to the issue, and broadly swaying public opinion towards support for same-sex marriage.”

LGBT youth are a concern and Gusciora said, “It’s simple; really, marriage equality is not the end of our fight. While we may have made strides in the fight for LGBT civil rights, especially in recent years, this is not the end of our journey. We must still fight for transgender rights, core curriculum standards that accurately portray the contributions of LGBT citizens, bullying protections for LGBT students and workers, LGBT minority business benefits, and dishonorable-to-honorable discharge for LBGT veterans. I’d urge any LGBT youth to take a look at the history of our civil rights movement. Getting to this point, for many of us, has been a fight that has taken a lifetime. We can’t become complacent in our position, because there are always groups of people who will try to knock us back to the dark ages.”

Gusciora also serves as prosecutor in Lawrence Township and addressed the rise of hate crimes nationwide. “To be honest, I haven’t seen an increase in hate crimes in New Jersey. Although New Jersey still has room to grow, we are more inclusive and LGBT friendly than many other States. With that being said, I have noticed discrimination and discriminatory behavior that falls short of hate crimes, for example, I hear the word “f*ggot” being tossed around a lot more now than I have in the past decade. It worries me for the next generation of children.” He went on to say, “My biggest concern for our state at this time is the growth in the socioeconomic gap between the rich and the poor. My district encompasses both; I represent sprawling mansions and estates in Hopewell and Lawrence, and dilapidated row homes in Trenton. We need to develop solutions that empower all of our communities to achieve their goals, by giving them the resources necessary to care for themselves.”

“People can get involved in just about any way, big or small,” said Gusciora. “They can volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate toiletries, and plant community gardens, or they can buy homes, build businesses, and provide economic opportunities for the residents of downtrodden areas. At its core, though, people need to understand that this gap is getting bigger, and without direct intervention, more and more of our citizens will join the ranks of the poverty-stricken and the homeless.”

Assemblyman Gusciora is also a big proponent of animal rights, campaigning for legislation expanding animal cruelty and increased punishment for those who commit harm. In his personal life, he donates to the Humane Society, ASPCA and his local animal shelter every year. “As a proud owner of two cats, and a long-time supporter of animal rights, both personally and in my capacity as a Legislator,” he said, “I’m happy to donate to causes that work to prevent cruelty to animals, and curtail the growth of feral animal populations and, accordingly, kill shelters.”

“In the upcoming election,” said Gusciora, “ I’d like to see New Jersey send a strong message to the nation that we won’t stand for this President’s regressive policies. New Jersey has always been a leader in protecting civil and human rights, and in leading the way for progressive change. It’s important that we keep being that leader, that we demonstrate, through our electoral power, a strong condemnation of everything Donald Trump stands for.”

“Regardless of where I may be in five years, I see myself continuing to serve the people of New Jersey as an elected representative. Being an Assemblyman has been one of the most personally and professionally fulfilling experiences of my life, “ he said, “I hope to continue in that role, or another substantively similar one, going forward. I’d like to be remembered for my commitment to good government. For the entirety of my tenure in the legislature, I’ve been committed to making sure that the citizens and taxpayers of New Jersey are being represented honestly. My vote is cast in the best interest of my constituents, not in the best interest of an interest.”

Cora Berke
I am a volunteer for New Hope Celebrates in New Hope, PA. and former Board member of FACT Bucks County. I write for Out in Jersey Magazine and the Bucks County Herald. I love travelling, knitting, reading and taking care of my cat Gemma.