Troy Stevenson: At the helm of NJ’s equality movement

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“I can’t leave things I love,” Troy Stevenson told me. In fact, I wouldn’t want him to. Stevenson is the new Executive Director of Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest organization advocating for LGBT rights. Born in Oklahoma City, Stevenson has come to love New Jersey, something easily seen in his tireless work for LGBT equality.

Stevenson travelled extensively before moving to New Jersey. He went to undergrad at the University of Oklahoma before making a difficult decision. “I swore that if Bush started a war in Iraq, I’d leave the country,” Stevenson said. “I left and went to France.” Then, he completed a degree in international law at the University of Winchester in London. “In 2007, I came back for Thanksgiving,” Stevenson said, “and my mom said I complained about American politics too much.”

Troy Stevenson speaking before his promotion at a Garden State Equality forum on marriage equality in 2012.

Troy Stevenson seen here speaking at a Garden State Equality forum on marriage equality in 2012 before his promotion to CEO of GSE.

If he was going to complain, she argued, then he may as well work to fix it. So, Stevenson moved back to the states, eventually joining marriage equality fights in Maine and New Jersey. His background in grassroots organizing is strengthened by extensive work on political campaigns, including Al Gore’s and both of Obama’s. These campaigns took him across the continental US before he moved back to NJ. But vast experience can only take one so far – it’s passion that is Stevenson’s main strength.

Stevenson’s first experience with GSE was during the 2009 campaign for marriage equality. “I had just come from the ‘No on 1’ campaign in Maine. They lost (although they won in 2012, thankfully). We got to New Jersey. It was early November, and we were actually told that we were going to be here for two weeks, and then the vote was going to happen,” Stevenson said. “So I only packed for a couple of weeks, and we ended up here through January.”

The bill didn’t pass and Stevenson went back to Philadelphia where he was staying at the time. “I got a call from Steven Goldstein, and he asked me to run the field campaign that we were running after the vote. And now, it’s been almost 3 years. In that time, we passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, and we passed marriage equality through both the House and the Senate.”

Although known for its marriage equality campaigns, Garden State Equality has fought for many different aspects of LGBT equality. From bullying to non-discrimination, the organization has been there. Earlier this year, Stevenson was instrumental when GSE turned its attention to Governor Chris Christie and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. GSE’s “Unfriend Christie” campaign was born in response to a fundraiser that Zuckerberg plans to hold at his California home for Christie.

“Facebook, as we’ve said time and time again, has been a place of inclusion. They’ve even made sure their employees are compensated for how marriage inequality affects their lives,” Stevenson said. “Facebook has made social media more inclusive by adding LGBT marriage to their platform. They’ve added protections for suicide prevention.” Why then was Zuckerberg holding a fundraiser for Christie, a staunch opponent of marriage equality?

With the help of Credo Mobile (and the 50 or so people they sent from California to NJ to help), the campaign was so successful that the hashtag #UnfriendChristie trended on Twitter. Like any campaign, there was blowback. “A lot of people took it as an attack on Christie or an attack on Zuckerberg, but it was really a way to raise awareness of what was happening. We don’t want someone to stop being friends with anyone. We just want them to stop getting money (for anti-LGBT policies). Social media is the future of grassroots organizing, and it’s heartening to see that an infusion of young blood into GSE is helping the organization stay on top of the trends.”

Most recently, GSE brought 45 people to a February event as the organization officially endorsed Democratic Senator Barbara Buono for governor. Significantly, the event was held on the one-year anniversary of Christie’s veto of the marriage equality bill. A few years back, Buono was inducted into GSE’s Hall of Fame for her work on LGBT equality.
Stevenson remains optimistic about the future of LGBT rights in NJ. “I know we’re going to get marriage equality in the not too distant future, whether it’s through an override or a veto-proof majority.” Nationally, “there’s a court case in June, and I think DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] will be overturned.”

He continued, “We all know that civil unions are not equal to marriage. There are some 1,200 federal rights we miss out on and only a few of those can be handled at the state level until DOMA is overturned. As soon as DOMA is overturned, there will be very clear disadvantages that we can show.” And that appears to be GSE’s current strategy: Keep the pressure on, keep talking about equality and keep on fighting. With Troy Stevenson at the helm of the largest LGBT equality group in the state, we are sure to see a brighter future for our community.

For more information vist www.gardenstateequality.org.

personal profile:

“I can’t leave things I love,” Troy Stevenson told me. In fact, I wouldn’t want him to. Stevenson is the new Executive Director of Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest organization advocating for LGBT rights. Born in Oklahoma City, Stevenson has come to love New Jersey, something easily seen in his tireless work for LGBT equality.