As Montclair heads into Pride Month, the Township Council will be asked to consider a package members are calling the “LGBTQ Equality Agenda for 2021” — seeking to update protections not only for sexual orientation, but gender identity and expression as well.

It would also require all single-use bathrooms in public settings to be labeled as all-gender facilities.

Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who set the agenda package, said he hopes to have the policies in place by this summer, with the ordinances and a resolution being introduced at the June 1 council meeting. 

Since 2018, Montclair has been one of the 12 New Jersey municipalities that participate in the Municipal Equality Index survey, which rates municipalities on their inclusiveness. The rating card is put together by The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy organization. It rates municipalities that self-report on several categories: nondiscrimination laws, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ equality.

In 2020, the township scored 78 out of 100 points overall, rising 20 points in two years. Yacobellis said Montclair received a higher index rating due to raising the Pride Flag at town hall, for waiving fees for youth groups such as the Gay Student Alliance for events in parks, and for his election as the township’s first openly LGBTQ elected official. Other initiatives over the last two years included appointing a LGBTQ liaison officer in the Montclair Police Department and reporting 2018 hate crimes statistics to the FBI.

Montclair Councilman Peter Yacobellis

“Since coming into office, I’ve had deep and thorough conversations with our township staff and my colleagues on the council, and have found the incredible support you would expect to see in Montclair to move this Equality Agenda forward. As the first openly LGBTQ person elected in Montclair, it is a top priority for me to make sure Montclair is the model community, in every way, for LGBTQ equality,” Yacobellis said. 

In the 2020 index, Montclair scored 7 out of 7 available points for nondiscrimination in city employment based on sexual orientation, but it got no points for nondiscrimination based on gender identity. It also received no points available to municipalities that have contractor nondiscrimination ordinances. 

This year’s Equality Agenda includes three proposed changes to law and one resolution. 

The proposed Contractor Non-Discrimination Ordinance would for the first time require protections against discrimination for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in third-party bidding and contracts.

The township’s current Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, would expand to bar discrimination based on gender identity or expression in hiring and appointing individuals to positions.

Another proposed ordinance would establish requirements for all-gender (unisex) restrooms, with proper signage, in all business establishments (including offices and office buildings), places of public accommodation and municipally owned buildings or facilities where publicly accessible single-occupancy facilities already exist or will be constructed in the future. 

The ordinance would also provide that single-occupancy restrooms that are designated handicapped accessible can also be identified as unisex or all-gender with appropriate signage for both designations. 

The proposed law does allow for a waiver if a business can demonstrate the requirement would violate or conflict with the state plumbing code or other state law.

In 2018, schools and township buildings that house single-occupancy bathrooms began offering all-gender bathrooms by way of policy.

“This will now codify those practices and will go further in requiring all businesses and office space to have all-gender bathrooms,” Yacobellis said.

In addition, the township’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy was recently updated to give protection for township employees beyond sexual orientation, and now includes protection on the basis of gender identity and expression. That policy, last updated in 2009, is set by the township manager and can be amended by the manager at any time, Yacobellis said. 

The council will also be asked to pass a resolution in support of New Jersey’s 2012 law that banned therapists from using so-called conversion therapy on children. The technique is meant to change a child’s orientation from gay to straight.

“This will reaffirm our position that we condemn this kind of activity,” Yacobellis said. 

Since personally experiencing both conversion therapy and being discharged from the U.S. Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1998, Yacobellis has focused much of his life fighting for LGBTQ rights.

He credited the work of Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, Councilman Bob Russo, Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams and affirmative action officer Bruce Morgan, who helped craft the agenda.

Russo, in an email, said he’s always supported equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and enjoyed working with Yacobellis on the proposals. 

“I look forward to supporting this agenda and celebrating Pride Month in Montclair in June,” he said.

Morgan’s role will be expanded to LGBTQ Liaison, reaching out to the LGBTQ community on housing and employment rights.

On Friday, June 4, Yacobellis and Mayor Sean Spiller, along with their colleagues, will for the first time raise a Progress Pride Flag at town hall. In addition to the rainbow of colors seen on most Pride flags, it includes black and brown, as well as pink, white and light blue — in reference to the transgender Pride Flag.

Yacobellis is the founder and president of Out Montclair, a charitable organization focused on educational and social events for LGBTQ people in Montclair. The group is planning a first-ever Montclair Pride festival in 2022.

He’s hoping that by 2022, Montclair will get a 100 score on the Municipal Equality Index by enacting more inclusive legislation and by expanding Morgan’s role.

In the Municipal Equality Index, Montclair also received no points for providing transgender-inclusive health-care benefits, or for providing services to LGBTQ homeless individuals and seniors. It received two out of two points available for providing services to LGBTQ youth, but none for having a youth bullying prevention policy for township services. 

Jaimie is an award-winning journalist and editor.