Montclair adopts LGBTQ equality protections

Montclair Township Municipal Building
Montclair Township Municipal Building file photo

Township Council passes a series of resolutions to further LGBTQ equality

The Montclair Township Council passed a series of laws on Tuesday aimed at protecting the local LGBTQ community. Three new laws were passed. The first is a third-party contracting non-discrimination ordinance. The second law is an employment non-discrimination ordinance. And the third will require a provision for all-gender restrooms in the township.

The third Party contracting law requires the inclusion of protection on the basis sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in all third-party bidding and contracts. The law ensures that township contracts do not spend tax dollars with any entity who themselves don’t protect their employees on this basis.

“New Jersey is one of the most pro-equality states in the nation,” said Christian Fuscarino  the Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “But, it’s still important for municipal governments to demonstrate their commitment to their LGBTQ+ residents through ordinances and resolutions like the ones enacted today,” continued Fuscarino. “We congratulate in particular, former Garden State Equality employee and Councilman Peter Yacobellis as well as the Mayor and the rest of the Township Council on taking these steps to ensure all residents of Montclair feel welcome and look forward to seeing what’s next.”

The second law will prohibiting discrimination in hiring, appointing and assignation of duties and positions on the basis of gender identity or expression (this has previously been codified only on the basis of sexual orientation in Montclair).

Peter Yacobellis
Peter Yacobellis

“This has been a long journey to understand how to codify Montclair’s reputational values into law and to be a counter-weight to the legislating against transgender people,” said Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, Montclair’s first openly LGBTQ+ elected official. He continued, “My thanks go to Mayor Spiller for his overarching support and in particular to Councilors Russo and Price Abrams for working with me on the details. This also could not have been achieved without

the support of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group and Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s top LGBTQ+ rights organization as well as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation members who have been working alongside our staff over the last several years to address these and many other issues.”

The third law is an ordinance to require the provision of all-gender restrooms in all business establishments (including offices and office buildings), places of public accommodation, and municipally owned buildings or facilities in Montclair, together with appropriate signage; where publicly accessible single-occupancy facilities already exist or will be constructed in the future.

Celeste Fiore
Celeste Fiore, Founder and Chair, Trans Affirming Alliance

“My Montclair community has taken an affirmative stance allying itself with transgender people by enacting more efficient bathroom policies,” said Celeste Fiore, Founder and Chair, Trans Affirming Alliance. “I have witnessed lines forming and people “holding it” rather than use the “opposite gender” bathroom. This new policy will benefit all bathroom users by eliminating unnecessary lines. As a non-binary trans masculine person, I always find single-occupancy bathrooms with a single-gender designation to be completely baffling and oftentimes very dangerous. Bathrooms are not the most dangerous threat to transgender health but making them easier to use is certainly a strong start. Montclair has removed one barrier for transgender people and I eagerly anticipate Montclair’s next steps forward.”

Also enacted was a resolution from the Township of Montclair in support of New Jersey’s A3371 which bans licensed therapists from using “gay-to-straight” Conversion Therapy on kids. Yacobellis, who personally experienced conversion therapy as a teenager here in New Jersey, read the text of that resolution out loud.

At the recommendation of Councilors Yacobellis, Russo and Price Abrams, township staff also made administrative changes to further support LGBTQ employees and the community.

Bruce Morgan, the Township’s Affirmative Action Officer has been named the Township Manager’s official liaison to the LGBTQ+ Community and the Township’s Equal Employment Opportunity / Affirmative Action Policy was recently updated to enumerate protection for Township employees on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Yacobellis said that work continues on an ordinance to prohibiting bullying in all youth-serving Township services. This would require all agencies and departments that provide services, activities, programs, and facilities for youth and third-party organizations that receive township funding for services and programs that include youth, to establish a clear policy for reporting, addressing, and preventing bullying as defined in the law. This policy would include a requirement for annual training for all staff on said policy and on key bullying prevention practices.

Yacobellis also expressed a strong desire for the Township to adopt transgender-specific healthcare coverage, including coverage for gender affirming surgery and hormone treatment.

“I’m excited about what can be done to address bullying in town too,” said Yacobellis. “But, going beyond protections in law to improving human services and quality of life, is the ultimate goal in my view. I think about LGBTQ+ homeless people who aren’t comfortable getting service from a house of worship; people living with HIV/AIDS still dealing with stigma, LGBTQ+ seniors, people of color and other segments of our community and the particular needs that they have.

Yacobellis has a long history of advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ equality. He personally experienced both conversation therapy and being discharged from the U.S. Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He has focused much of his life on fighting for justice and has served as an advisor, in volunteer and staff capacities, to two New York Governors, presidential campaigns, U.S. Senators, non-profits and private companies.

In 2009 Yacobellis helped lead the Equality March on Washington, which led to the overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill. Later, as Finance Director for Garden State Equality and later as an aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, he was instrumental in the fight for marriage equality in both New York and New Jersey.

When Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi tragically lost his life Yacobellis worked with the Trevor Project to launch Trevor NextGen NYC. He also served as co-chair of the Government Affairs committee for their Board of Directors.

Recently Yacobellis started the Out Montclairr group. It is a charitable organization focused on educational and social events for LGBTQ people in Montclair. The group is planning a first-ever Montclair Pride festival in 2022.