First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco responded to recent bias incidents again homosexual and transgender Americans by hosting a fundraiser last week for the NJ LGBTQ Caucus at The Dubliner at 96 River St. In an interview he challenged the Zimmer administration to invest city resources into services provided to LGBTQ youth, homeless and elderly persons as well as those with HIV/AIDS.
(DeFusco is also said to be planning a run against Zimmer for mayor in November, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.)
“Recent vandalism at Jersey City Pride headquarters as well as Garden State Equality’s office in Asbury Park shows that although the LGBTQ community has made tremendous strides in New Jersey, acceptance still isn’t universal,” said DeFusco. “As the first openly-gay elected official in Hudson County, I wanted to host my friends and colleagues from the NJ LGBTQ Caucus in Hoboken, as a way of raising awareness to local and statewide issues.”
“We are here because it’s the caucus’s goal to assist ‘out’ legislators and make sure they feel supported by the state democratic party,” said chair of the caucus Christopher Hillman. “We focus on the outreach and the networking to help create a whole community of support.”
Hillman said it’s especially important in areas like Hoboken to host LGBTQ events where there is no LGBTQ community center or meeting place for the community.
“Hoboken doesn’t even have a gay bar,” said Hillman.
“To me, events like this are important to raise awareness, but also for the cultivation of a younger generation of socially-minded folks who want to get involved, but may not know how to,” said DeFusco.
One attendee, Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and school board president in Franklin Township, said he felt compelled to come support and “build bridges” with other openly-gay officials.
He said that in a national climate which has been negative to people who are part of the LGBTQ community, the most important message he could share is, “It’s okay, and it’ll be okay, and we will persevere.”
DeFusco said he believed the fundraiser went well overall. About 40 people attended the three-hour fundraiser.
“Hoboken is a diverse and accepting place, and my election to City Council is a testament to that.” – Councilman Michael DeFusco
“The evening was great,” said DeFusco. “Though I’m disappointed the mayor didn’t attend.”
According to Juan Melli, spokesman for the city of Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer was not invited. DeFusco is widely viewed as a potential opponent to Zimmer’s reelection as mayor next fall.
Hoboken has room for improvement
DeFusco said he has found Hoboken to be an accepting place but that there are still a lot of steps that need to be taken. He pointed to the city’s score on the Human Rights Campaign municipal equality index.
“Hoboken is a diverse and accepting place, and my election to City Council is a testament to that,” said DeFusco. “Unfortunately, from a municipal level, we failed the Human Rights Campaign municipal equality index, scoring 51 out of 100. That was the second lowest score in the state, just above Paterson. Jersey City, in contrast, scored a perfect 100. Though there are two points that should’ve been allocated due to having an openly LGBTQ elected representative, that still wouldn’t have made our score any less failing.”
According to city spokesman Juan Melli, the city scored poorly because the city didn’t provide all the correct information in 2016.
“The reason for the low score is that, unfortunately, we didn’t provide the Human Rights Campaign with updated information, so we are missing points in various categories, including non-discrimination policies, municipal services, and leadership positions,” said Melli.
DeFusco said the administration will need to make some changes if they wish to change their score in the future and that he is willing to help make that happen.
“To raise our score for next year, the Zimmer administration will need to invest city resources into services provided to LGBTQ youth, homeless and elderly persons as well as those with HIV/AIDS,” said DeFusco. “We’ll need to designate a LGBTQ liaison within the HPD [Hoboken Police Department] and offer transgender-inclusive health benefits, just to name a few areas. I will continue to work with anyone and everyone to ensure Hoboken is committed to equality.”
According to Melli the city is already making strides this year to be more inclusive as the
“legal department is working on the executive order for gender neutral bathrooms” at City Hall.
“This is a small but meaningful step forward and one that probably wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t host the event in Hoboken,” said DeFusco when he heard of the news.
“Acceptance comes with understanding, and even with all the progress made in the courts, we still have a ways to go, especially with transgender rights,” said DeFusco. “As a city councilman, I have the unique opportunity to help the Zimmer administration raise our city’s equality score and work with my colleagues on the City Council to pass pro-equality legislation.”
“Throughout my career and in my personal life, I have always been committed to LGBT equality and civil rights and I always will be,” said Zimmer.
Hoboken was among the first cities in the state to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples under the Zimmer administration and the city currently requires annual anti-discrimination training for all city employees.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.