Former out Atlantic City mayor seeks N.J. Gen. Assembly seat

Don Guardian

Don Guardian, former Republican mayor of Atlantic City, is running for New Jersey General Assembly’s 2nd district, which spans South Jersey shore points and inland Atlantic County. If elected, he would be the only out member of the LGBTQ+ community in the New Jersey legislature.

“I have known Don Guardian for a number of years and am honored to be supporting his candidacy,” Equality GOP Chairman John Traier said in a written statement. “The Republican Party needs leaders like him who will reach new constituencies and help grow our party.”

During his time as mayor of Atlantic City, Guardian did what he thought best for the nearly-bankrupt town by cutting the annual budget and paring down government jobs. He also repaved roads and rebuilt parks, put in LED street lights, lessened violent crimes and helped create jobs.

“I’ve been so disappointed that the progress that we made didn’t continue,” Guardian said. “I have been to Trenton and Washington D.C. plenty of times when I was mayor, and was very bold about why we felt we weren’t being treated fairly, or why we needed some assistance. It was very easy to be able to do that, and I don’t think that that’s happening right now.”  

If elected to the state legislature, he hopes to help economically reinvigorate the 2nd district, which includes Atlantic and Camden counties.   

“We are in such a wonderful time frame in the next probably three years because of the funding,” Guardian said. “Even if it’s half or a third of what the president is projecting on money that will be coming from the federal government through the state to individual municipalities to fix infrastructure, create new jobs and maintain companies that are providing jobs. We in South Jersey, in particular Atlantic County and Atlantic City, do not do a good job in finding those funds that are readily available.”

In addition to tackling infrastructure issues and creating jobs, Guardian deems it important to secure comprehensive rights and protections for LGBTQ residents of New Jersey. Atlantic City has long been welcoming of queer folks, but Guardian believes that LGBTQ-inclusive legislation must evolve as LGBTQ communities have evolved.

“There’s a large group of individuals that are not guaranteed those same protections under the constitution,” he said. “As a member of the LGBT community, we have to make sure that we protect our community the way that we protect every American that’s living in the state of New Jersey and down in South Jersey as well.” 

New Jersey has many laws and policies in place that protect LGBTQ folks, including nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws, but it leaves some LGBTQ-protective laws to be desired. According to the Movement Advancement Project, no state law exists barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in private health insurance settings, nor is there a law requiring transgender-inclusive health benefits for state employees. 

“What are the issues facing the LGBT community that are not being addressed,” Guardian asked rhetorically. “It could be specifically on some issues that have to do with health or long term protection, but it also has to do with job equality, salary, other issues that may still prevent members of our family from getting and keeping good-paying jobs.” 

In a growing state legislative trend, Republican lawmakers in New Jersey introduced a bill earlier this year that would ban trans students from participating in school sports that align with their non-biological gender. Guardian commented on the relative newness of trans folks living authentically, and how society understands or perceives trans bodies. He communicated the need to know the issues impacting trans communities, and to ensure that trans rights are protected.  

Like most LGBTQ political candidates, Guardian is not running on his sexual orientation, but because he feels that he is best equipped to enact positive change for the inhabitants of his district. However, as a gay man, he brings to the table experience as an elder who is part of a minority community. 

“I can remember out of college, if you went to a town that you hadn’t been before, that you had a book or a guide that would tell you where it was safe to eat or safe to sleep where you weren’t going to get beat up,” Guardian said. “That’s the kind of experience that I bring to the table.” He equated the need for LGBTQ equality to the need for racial equality. 

“Atlantic City today is more African American and Latino and Asian and Indian than it was 50 years ago, but we’ve always been a multicultural society,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that each of those [groups] feel comfortable.”

Some of his Republican values manifest in his approach to financial matters. “I’m looking at how we can do the most with the least amount of money, and I would much prefer individuals to do things and not the government,” he said. “The government should be involved when we can’t find individuals or companies to provide those services.” 

If elected to the state legislature, Guardian would have his work cut out for him as far as helping New Jerseyans navigate the reopening process as the pandemic starts to ease up. He prioritizes reopening schools and faith-based organizations, and making the coronavirus vaccine available to those who want it. 

“It’s going to be critical for us to get those businesses open [because] the businesses provided jobs,” Guardian said. “At some point unemployment benefits and federal support of unemployment are going to be done away with. We need to make sure that people get their jobs back.” 

The New Jersey primary election will take place on June 8.

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.