Barbra Siperstein, a groundbreaking activist for transgender rights and trans visibility in Democratic politics — in New Jersey and nationwide — died on February 3. A native of Jersey City known as Babs, she was 76.
In 2009, Siperstein, a founding member of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBTQ rights group, became the first transgender member of the Democratic National Committee. Two years later, she became part of the DNC Executive Committee, where she remained until late 2017. During the 2016 presidential election, Siperstein was a superdelegate for nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.
On Facebook, Steven Goldstein, who served as the founding executive director of Garden State Equality (GSE), wrote that Siperstein “led the way in making New Jersey an international leader in transgender equality. Even as she became a national leader in the Democratic Party, she persuaded the most right-wing Republicans in New Jersey to support transgender equality. In our state, unlike in too many other states, legislators found transgender equality the easiest LGBT progress to vote for. It was because of Babs.”
Christian Fuscarino, the group’s current executive director, described Siperstein as a “towering figure in the LGBTQ community… among the likes of Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, and Bayard Rustin.”
Noting that as a GSE board member from the group’s first days, “Babs pushed us all to embrace an uncompromising pro-equality campaign that left no member of our community behind,” Fuscarino said Siperstein “was instrumental in passing many of the 220 LGBTQ civil rights laws that Garden State Equality has secured in its 15-year history.”
Just two days before Siperstein’s death, the Babs Siperstein Law that simplifies the process of transgender people born in New Jersey changing their birth certificate gender marker, including the option of a non-binary signifier, took effect. New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy ordered the state’s flags flown at half-mast and delivered a eulogy at her funeral service.
According to InsideNJ.com, New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a stalwart ally of the LGBTQ community, said of Siperstein’s passing, “Another sad loss but she lived to see some very important legislation passed in her honor. A courageous life lived to make it better for others.”
In a written statement, DNC Chair Tom Perez noted that Siperstein led the fight for an expanded definition of gender in the party’s rules for delegate selection and caucus participation so that gender non-binary and nonconforming Democrats can better be represented.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Babs Siperstein,” Perez said. “Our party and our country are stronger because of Babs’ leadership.”