Babs Siperstein leaves pioneering legacy

Transgender rights advocate lived to see law implemented in her name

Babs Siperstein, a Jersey City native, was on hand at the announcement that health benefits would be provided for Jersey City's transgender city employees.
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Babs Siperstein, a Jersey City native, was on hand at the announcement that health benefits would be provided for Jersey City's transgender city employees.

Within a day of New Jersey enacting a law that allows residents of New Jersey and those born in the Garden State to choose a gender-neutral option on their birth certificates, transgender activist and icon Barbra “Babs” Siperstein passed away.

The law, which went into effect on Feb. 1 and was named in her honor, includes three birth certificate gender options: “female, male, or undesignated/nonbinary.”

“With the passing of Babs Siperstein, New Jersey lost one of the great leaders for the LGBTQ community and all communities,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who worked with Siperstein to help enact healthcare for transgender Jersey City employees two years ago.

“I was lucky to have worked w with her,” Fulop said, noting that city hall will fly the flag at half staff along with the Transgender Pride Flag.

“Babs was a towering figure in the LGBTQ community who worked tirelessly to advance the rights of transgender people over the last two decades.” — Christian Fuscarino

Paving the way

Siperstein was the first transgender person to become a member of the Democratic National Committee, where she served until 2017.

She became one of the leading spokespersons in the state for transgender rights. There are more than 30,000 transgender people living in New Jersey, according to a 2016 report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

Siperstein, a Jersey City native, passed away at the age of 76 on Feb. 3 at RWJBarnabas Health in New Brunswick. She was surrounded by family, friends, and her loving partner and companion Dorothy.

“Babs was a towering figure in the LGBTQ community who worked tirelessly to advance the rights of transgender people over the last two decades.” said Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino. “She was an architect of our movement, pioneering critical civil rights legislation here in New Jersey and, as the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee, throughout our nation.”

In good company

Fuscarino compared Siperstein to some of the most prominent LGBTQ leaders, including Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, and Bayard Rustin.

“With the Babs Siperstein Law now in effect, transgender New Jerseyans who update their birth certificates will be reminded of Babs and her courage,” Fuscarino said. “Babs’s work has touched countless lives and will continue to do so, and we will ensure her legacy is remembered for generations to come.”

The birth certificate law was only one of more than 200 LGBTQ civil rights laws and policies promoted by Garden State Equality and supported by Siperstein.

“This is a tremendous loss for our community, and she will be sorely missed,” said Tom Prol, a longtime board member of Garden State Equality. “Since the nascent days of Garden State Equality, Babs pushed us all to embrace an unmitigated pro-equality campaign that left no member of our community behind. Babs was truly unmatched and taught us all to never back down.”

Siperstein’s passing comes just two days after the Babs Siperstein Law—New Jersey’s historic birth certificate law bearing her name—went into effect. The law streamlines the process for New Jerseyans to change the gender marker on their birth certificates, removing the outdated, burdensome, and invasive “proof of surgery” requirement; adding a third gender option (“X” for non-binary/undesignated); and removing the provider certification (e.g. – letter from a therapist) and replacing it with Self Attestation.

In 2009, Siperstein was appointed to the Democratic National Committee by then-chairman Tim Kaine. She was appointed to the Democratic National Committee’s Executive Committee in 2011, where she served until October 2017.

Advocate extraordinaire

After coming out as transgender in 2000, Siperstein was a longtime activist for LGBTQ equality in New Jersey. She served as an original board member for Garden State Equality. Over the course of her advocacy in New Jersey, Siperstein helped advocate for marriage equality and transgender inclusive nondiscrimination protections.

Siperstein was a U.S. Army veteran, small business owner, and parent of three.

“Barbra ‘Babs’ Casbar Siperstein leaves behind an inspiring legacy of activism, and she will be remembered as a true trailblazer who changed our state for the better,” said Lizette Delgado-Polanco, vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (NJDSC). “I’m proud of the role Babs played not just as an advocate on the issues she fought so hard on, but in our party as a Deputy Vice Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. Babs will be deeply missed but her legacy as a change maker will live on forever.”

“Anyone who believes in equality and progress in New Jersey owes a great debt of gratitude to Babs Siperstein, who spent her life advocating for these important values,” said NJDSC Chair John Currie. “We must honor her legacy and her work by continuing to move the conversation on equality forward and ensure that every New Jersey resident has the opportunities and rights they deserve.”

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