Madame chair: advocacy and leading with love

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Lauren Albrecht
Lauren Albrecht

Lauren Albrecht is the chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee LGBTQ Caucus. She has ushered in a new generation of LGBTQ leaders throughout the state. Under her leadership in the past year, six LGBTQ candidates won new seats they didn’t previously hold, and ten more LGBTQ incumbents were reelected.

“Lauren is a no-nonsense leader with excellent skills to execute a plan for the future of LGBTQ leadership in the State of New Jersey,” said Reginald Bledsoe, who serves as the chair of Essex County LGBTQ Dems Caucus and the Essex County Director of LGBTQ Concerns.

As the chair of the Monmouth County LGBTQ Democratic Caucus before her current position, she was noticed. There were times when she faced slight criticism for at first glance appearing as “straight passing” or for assimilating into straight culture, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Albrecht is a natural-born leader. Born in Elizabeth and the oldest of two, she rose to lead a state Democratic caucus with hundreds of members currently all across the Garden State.

Albrecht laughs about her “coming out” story and how she never formally came out. She began to really express who she was to the larger community in high school. But she felt she didn’t quite fit in. “I think probably just feeling like I didn’t connect with other kids when I was young, it just took me a while to find my footing with same-age peers.”

But once she did, sticking up for friends and her loved ones came naturally. She would even argue that was one of her earliest encounters with advocacy. And coincidentally, as the chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee LGBTQ Caucus, her life and advocacy couldn’t be more intertwined. That’s due to her love and passion both for community members, but also for justice.

“Lauren genuinely cares about the community she serves every day. I am happy to call Lauren my true friend and trusted confidante,” said Bledsoe.

She identifies as bisexual and has felt what many call the erasure or shunning of the community at large. Common misconceptions of bi individuals she says are: “They’re just confused. They’re gay or lesbian. It’s a transitional phase until they fully come out. They’re actually straight, but they want the attention. It’s not even real. Such misconceptions are extremely harmful. For the naysayers out there, bi is a legitimate sexual orientation.”

Dr. Brian A. Feinstein, an associate professor of psychology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, said people erase bisexuality because many think in stark, black-and-white terms. Feinstein explained that rigid ways of thinking lead many to assume that someone is straight, gay, or lesbian — disregarding gray space among those identities.

“I think, for some people, it’s hard to get their heads around this idea that sexual orientation doesn’t have to be either-or,” explained Feinstein. “That it’s not only being attracted to people of the same gender or people of another gender but that you could be attracted to more than one different type of person.”

Bi erasure simply causes stigma, which significantly contributes to health risks. Some evidence suggests that bisexual people have higher rates of anxiety and depression than straight or gay people.

“[To many] it signifies promiscuity or lends itself to polyamory — both also fine, but not a part of all bisexual identity,” said Albrecht. “[To many] it’s somehow not real or not valid. In my personal experience, it’s often the loudest, gay-identifying people, often cis men, that harbor these prejudicial misconceptions and weaponize them to invalidate my leadership, expertise, and experience, my seat at the communal table. But the fact is that nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ-identifying people consider themselves bisexual, so it’s pretty ridiculous to try to invalidate it.”

Albrecht doesn’t let the haters get to her; instead, she decides to put her energy into educating and lobbying to change anti-LGBTQ legislation. While also serving as a lobbyist for Garden State Equality, she is partly responsible for dozens of pro-equality bills getting passed in the New Jersey legislature.

Most recently, she played an instrumental role in the successful implementation of several bills. They include the HIV Decriminalization Bill, which reduces offenses of deliberately transmitting a sexually transmitted infection to a disorderly person’s offense and revises elements of the offense; the Harm Reduction Act (A4847/S3009) which authorizes the expanded provision of harm reduction service to distribute sterile syringes and provide certain support services to people who use drugs intravenously; and the Marriage Equality Codification (A5367/S3416) which codifies same-sex marriage in the statutes.

Albrecht is clear about her professional and personal priorities. To no one’s surprise she leads both lanes with love. Her top priorities are getting LGBTQ people elected to office this election cycle and further codifying additional protections for LGBT people.

“There are lots of big races in New Jersey this year from the top of the ticket, with several LGBTQ women running for state legislature and a big responsibility to keep pushing history forward, keep taking what we’re owed, what we’re due, and what we deserve. Any part I can facilitate in any of those activities, that’s where you’ll find me,” said Albrecht.

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