On Tuesday September 22, 2015, Mayor Steven Fulop announced that "Jersey City would be expanding the health care it offers city employees to include coverage for transgender medical care and related procedures, such as gender affirmation surgery." Jersey City will be one of only a handful of large cities across the country offering such benefits and becomes the first in New Jersey and only the second such city in the East following Philadelphia.
How did such a momentous and eventful step forward in transgender equality happen? Mayor Fulop, a marine, a former investment banker and councilman, the son of immigrants has a record of supporting local inclusive LGBT organizations and he married same sex couples in public ceremonies the minute it became legal in New Jersey. He already has a record of leadership for LGBT equality.
But to take a giant step for transgender people took a special awareness. He was aware of the widespread discrimination that transgender people faced in gaining access to adequate health care. Changes in Federal non-discrimination policy via The Department of Health and Human Services, and throughout the Obama Administration that included "gender identity" could not be denied. He specifically noted and took pride in the fact that "Jersey City has received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index for two consecutive years, the only city in New Jersey to have done so." He knows personally and has worked with transgender, lesbian and gay advocates and political leaders who have stepped up to engage on inclusive LGBT equality.
I was honored to stand with Mayor Fulop and with Garden State Equality Executive director Andrea Bowen on the steps of City Hall and join in remarks as the announcement was made.
It is one thing to advocate for policy or legislation for which there is no cost, another to proactively take responsibility for finding additional funds for a small, misunderstood minority. I gratefully acknowledge the help of Philadelphia Airport's Acting Director of Federal Compliance and Certification Kathleen Padilla, who worked closely with Philadelphia Mayor Nutter and current mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, for sharing her research and insight in making the "Philadelphia Trans Story" a success so that we could create a Jersey City Story.
As we talk about actual costs and cost savings to Jersey City, or any other municipality, I think about Jersey City Police sergeant "Debbie" Bennett, a decorated officer, a community volunteer, a "Blue Knight," who retired before her prime because she felt that it was necessary for her to transition and at the time her work environment was perceived to be hostile. How much did it cost Jersey City to hire and train a new officer with her skills, experience and outstanding record? I'll venture to bet it was a lot more than the cost of affirmation surgery and ancillary medical treatment.
Mayor Fulop made not only the morally "right" decision, but also the fiscally "smart" decision!