Local gays speak out against discrimination

Sussex County NOW holds awareness raising event

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  • NOW member and emcee Lindsay Campbell Photos by Liam Donovan

  • Zoe Heath

  • Dawn Penna

  • Gordon Sauer

  • From left, Heath, Penna, Sauer, Jamie Bruesehoff, and Assembly candidate Kate Matteson.

By Liam Donovan

— “You have to have your own inner outness, so you can be okay with yourself.”

That’s what Zoe Heath, a Vernon Township High School student told the audience at an LGBTQ 101 awareness event last Friday night at the Universalist Unitarian church in Newton. The event was sponsored by the Sussex County National Organization of Women.

Heath, who founded the Gay Straight Alliance at her high school, was speaking about “a lot of negativity for gay people and other marginalized groups.”

“Even now I have kids that come to GSA whose parents would throw them out if they come out,” she said.

To illustrate continued discrimination against gays, Heath cited a recent incident of a man being asked to take the American flag down from his truck for safety reasons.

“He said, ‘If that dyke can run around with the gay flag, I can fly the American flag.’”

Heath plans to go to college and eventually work in the government as a representative of the gay community.

“You have to fake it until you make it. You have to say, I’m a good person and I’m okay with who I am,” she said.

“It’s an event to show support for the local LGBTQ community,” Lindsay Campbell, the event’s organizer, said. “I’m very happy to see people are interested in seeing how to better understand the LGBTQ community and are interested in amplifying those voices in support.”

“When I was listening to Zoe’s presentation, I thought, ‘Wow. A lot hasn’t changed since I was in school,’” Dawn Penna, the speaker who followed heath, said. “A lot doesn’t change. Words still destroy people.”

Penna also spoke of the discrimination people in the LGBTQ community face, including a recent incident where a man cut in front of her in line at the store.

“He said, ‘She shouldn’t have any rights, nevermind be checked out before me.’ So… that was Friday. Things are becoming much more unsafe for us.”

Gordon Sauer, a retired language teacher at Summit High School, spoke next.

“In our schools it is the law that every student is treated equally,” said Gordon Sauer, a retired language teacher at Summit High School and a long-time gay activist. “If ever you find out about someone whose rights have been violated, contact me and I will get them support.”

Sauer is committee chairman at GLSEN, an organization that works to make schools safe for LGBTQ kids.

He spoke of introducing his spouse to his school community at a dinner near the end of his career.

“I got the chance to introduce my spouse in front of… my whole life. It was liberating,” he said.

“All we are looking for is the same kindness, respect and compassion that any other person would be treated with,” Sauer said.

Jamie Bruesehoff spoke about her 10-year-old transgender daughter Rebekah.

“There was my son, wearing a pink tropical bird suit among classmates in seagull costumes,” she said about her daughter’s early gender nonconformity.

“She didn’t have language with us, she didn’t know why she was like that,” Bruesehoff said. “I can tell you when she was born I didn’t know transgender kids existed. The moment she learned that word, it was about six weeks until she was Rebekah.”

“As she gets close to people she wants to tell them… Sometimes she’s just a girl. She goes to school. She goes to dance. Other times I’m at the state house, testifying [in support of transgender rights].

“No ten-year old should have to worry if they are going to be able to go to the bathroom safely. That’s not okay,” Bruesehoff said. “We regularly lose children. Parents post online, my child committed suicide… They are being themselves in a world that doesn’t want them to exist.”

Jamie blogs about her experiences as the mother of a transgender child at iamtotallythatmom.blogspot.com/.

Kate Matteson, who is running for state Assembly, attended the event. She said she was there because people need to be more open and understanding about the LGBTQ community and recognize the discrimination the community faces.

"When we're talking about changing the culture of Sussex County, we're doing that one person at a time," she said.

Matteson is running with fellow Democrat Gina Tish for two Assembly seats from the 24th state district. Their Republican opponents are incumbent Parker Space and Harold Wirhs. Republicans have long controlled the district.

The speakers gave the names of support groups for LGBTQ people, the list included: GSA, GLSEN, SAGE, GAAMC, Garden State Equality, National Center for Transgender Equality and Delaware Valley Gay Neighbors.

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