The Jersey Tomato Press

Essex County Exec DiVincenzo Honors LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration

The Jersey Tomato Press — Tuesday, July 23, 2015

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board hosted the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration on Tuesday, July 21st. During the ceremony, DiVincenzo presented Pride of Essex County Awards to Andrea Bowen, Executive Director of Garden State Equity, and N.J. State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff M. Teresa Ruiz, in recognition of their support in the struggle for equality for the members of the LGBTQ community.

"We are proud to celebrate Essex County Pride Month and raise awareness about the LGBTQ community in Essex and how this segment of the population has contributed to the development of our County. Our year-long cultural heritage series recognizes the diversity of our residents and it is fitting that we include the LGBTQ community," DiVincenzo said. "Ms. Bowen and Senator Ruiz have worked hard to provide support, promote understanding and protect human rights," he noted.

"We began over a decade ago addressing issues about equality and we are going to continue to address the issues state by state. The recent decision by the Supreme Court about marriage equality was a great victory, and there are many people who will uphold the Supreme Court's decision as we move forward," said Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver. "Marriage is the first thing and we have more to go and we will get there," she added.

"I am proud to be here today. I grew up in a home that taught about love and acceptance. We, here at the County, admire your advocacy and work to provide equality for all," said Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake to the honorees.

"I was overwhelmed by the decision in June for marriage equality. We can pass legislation, have decisions by the courts, but it is in every individual to practice kindness, compassion and acceptance," said Essex County Register Dana Rone. "The philosophy is kindness, show it," she added.

Andrea Bowen is a transgender activist and social worker who is currently serving as Executive Director of Garden State Equality. After nearly four years as a researcher with the Ironworkers Union's Organizing Department, Bowen led successful transgender policy advocacy efforts at the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, DC, including passage of birth certificate and name change reform legislation, and Mayoral policy solidifying transgender peoples' right to insurance coverage of transition-related care. She also helped engineer a legal victory against a women's homeless shelter in Washington, DC, that was denying access to transgender women. Ms. Bowen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Certificate in Women's Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2008 with high honors, and a Master of Social Work degree from Catholic University of America in 2014. She has won awards from the Pride Network and New Jersey Citizen Action for activism in New Jersey, the Washington Peace Center and Gertrude Stein Democratic Club of Washington, DC, for transgender activism and advocacy regarding transgender health insurance coverage, homeless shelter access and identity document reform legislation, and was recognized as an Emerging Young Leader of the LGBT Community in an event organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement.

"Thank you for this honor, however, I feel very strongly that a lot of this award goes to people who began this work before me. Transgender rights are where they are in this state because of the tireless efforts of those who began the work and continued working," said Ms. Bowen. "There is still so much work to do and the people in this room are doing the work. I want Garden State Equality to be an organization that can join with people who are doing this work, so we can fight the larger battle of equality," she added.

Senator M. Teresa Ruiz has served in the Senate since 2008. She represents the 29th Legislative District, which includes the part of Newark and Belleville in Essex County. A first-generation Puerto Rican American, she is the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Senate. Senator Ruiz, an Assistant Majority Leader, serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee, and as a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee, the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.

The Senator was the prime sponsor of a law that overhauled New Jersey's 100-year-old teacher tenure statute. Signed into law in 2012, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act put standards in place to require teacher tenure to be earned and maintained through ongoing performance measurements but also to ensure that if deficiencies are identified, educators get the help they need. Senator Ruiz authored New Jersey's version of the DREAM Act, a measure designed to provide higher education opportunities to all students in the state. Signed in December 2013, the law makes undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates at New Jersey public colleges and universities. The Garden State became the 17th in the nation to legislatively establish tuition equity for DREAMers under the law.

In the Legislature, the Senator also is focused on protecting children with learning disabilities, as well as senior citizens and the safety of residents statewide. She sponsored a law to improve programs in public schools to identify students with difficulty reading and to provide them with stronger academic support. She was the prime sponsor of a bill to create the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care in order to more effectively meet the special needs of those who are approaching the end of life. The Senator was also the prime sponsor of a 2009 law prohibiting individuals from purchasing more than one handgun in a month.

Senator Ruiz received a Bachelor's Degree from Drew University. She is a founding member of the Robert Treat Academy and served as a Trustee of the Essex County Vocational-Technical School Board. Senator Ruiz is vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Party and is Deputy Chief of Staff to Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. She served as an elected delegate in the Democratic National Convention in 2004, 2008 and in 2012. The senator is an Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellow, one of 24 individuals identified by the program's leadership in 2010 as America's emerging political leaders with reputations for intellect, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to civil dialogue.

A fearless advocate for the people, she is the recipient of various awards and citations from organizations which have recognized her passion to promote the ideas of justice, inclusion and equality. She was granted the Democrats for Education Reform Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award in 2012, the Spirit of Hospice Award as Public Servant in 2012 and the Garden State Equality Voice for Justice Award in 2008. She has been recognized by the Latino Institute, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to advance educational achievement for Latinos and to promote Latino culture in America, as well as the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey. A lifelong resident of Newark's North Ward, she is married to Samuel Gonzalez.

"Thank you to County Executive DiVincenzo and the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board for this nomination. I am honored and humbled to be recognized with this award," said Senator Ruiz. "Love conquers in ways we cannot imagine and I am committed to continuing the work to make sure we move people out of poverty, ensure individuals have access to education and services they need and move towards equality for all," she added.

Musical entertainment was provided by NJPAC Jazz for Teens Alumni.

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