Progressive trans legislation honors longtime N.J. advocate

 Longtime trans advocate Barbra “Babs” Siperstein is expected to be honored this month in New Jersey with the passage of groundbreaking legislation in her name. Under the proposed law, trans people born in New Jersey can change their gender on their birth certificates without undergoing gender-confirmation surgery.

The birth-certificate bill, S478, passed the New Jersey Assembly, 57-11, on May 24. It’s expected to pass the Senate this month and be signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy. The current law requires proof of gender-confirmation surgery before trans people born in New Jersey can have their gender designation accurately noted on their birth certificate.

New Jersey Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, a Democrat whose district covers all of Salem County and parts of Cumberland and Gloucester counties in South Jersey, said it was his idea to have the bill named after Siperstein.

“It was simply the right thing to do,” Burzichelli told PGN. “Babs has been a driving force on LGBT issues for many years. She’s a warrior. Her spirit is bright and her resolve is very clear. I’m always inspired by people who fight for causes that aren’t necessarily popular with the majority.”

Siperstein, 75, of Edison, said it was “a very pleasant surprise” to learn the proposed measure bears her name. “It has the potential to save lives. It enables people to be free to live their authentic lives.”

Siperstein said she has advocated for trans rights for about 20 years. “I’m a Jersey girl. So I guess you can call me assertive. You can’t do things halfway. I learned a long time ago, if you don’t get a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

She has three children from a prior marriage, five grandchildren and a supportive life partner to keep her going, she said. “I’m very fortunate to have a loving family,” she said.

Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBT-advocacy group, vigorously advocated for the bill’s passage. “The current law is deeply unfair,” said Aaron Potenza, GSE’s director of programs. “Every transition is different and our laws need to reflect that.”

Potenza also praised Siperstein. “As a transgender person myself, Babs is someone whom I’ve learned from and looked up to. She’s a tremendous advocate. She doesn’t give up.”

Siperstein said she’s active in Democratic politics but emphasized the birth-certificate bill has bipartisan support. In 2009, she became the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee.

Siperstein no longer serves on the DNC, but remains active politically. She serves as deputy vice-chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey.

Siperstein also was a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

She said she looks forward to attending a bill-signing ceremony with Murphy. A spokesperson for Murphy had no comment for this story, other than to note that the governor doesn’t comment on pending legislation.