My first Op-Ed piece was published in today’s Star-Ledger as well as NJvoices.com. With all of the recent hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQ community, cities need to open their eyes and protect its valuable constituents…

By Gary Paul Wright

May 11 marked the 10-year anniversary of the murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old lesbian girl. The milestone went fairly unnoticed by the local media, including The Star-Ledger, as well as the city of Newark itself. Gunn’s death was undoubtedly the turning point for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning activism in Newark, which led to the creation of the Newark Pride Alliance and more. It was reason enough for the city to create the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on LGBTQ Concerns and the Essex County Executive’s LGBTQ Advisory Board. It was also reason enough for city leaders, at that time, to promise a community center for LGBTQ youth.

In realty, Newark has done little more than offer lip-service to its gay community. As a commissioner and an advisory board member, trying to get the ears of City Hall to listen has been futile. Activities that were given the green light just two years ago have been thwarted, and cooperation from the city is non-existent.

A March to Remember Sakia was held on May 11, and the Liberation In Truth Social Justice Center was remade as the Sakia Gunn Center for LGBTQ Resources for the day, with most local LGBTQ organizations participating. These included the African American Office of Gay Concerns, Unity Fellowship NewArk, Garden State Equality, North Jersey Community Research Initiative, and others. There was a viewing of Chas Brack’s “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project,” a documentary that included footage from the sentencing of Sakia’s killer, Robert McCullough. The viewing also featured a Q&A session with the film’s director, and remarks from members of Sakia’s family.

This day was surely a teachable moment for Newark that was missed. Instead, it shows just how the LGBTQ community in the city has once again become invisible, and under the radar. Sadly, only one legislator turned up to support us, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who wished us well in our efforts to open an LGBTQ Center.

What’s remarkable about this is that, nine years ago, on the first anniversary of Sakia Gunn’s death, current and future candidates for mayor, Cory Booker and Ras Baraka, assured the community that a center was needed in Newark, especially for our youth, who have nowhere to go to openly congregate with each other in safe spaces other than HIV/AIDS organizations.

True, we now have the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s after-school program, but it is limited in scope with respect to age and hours of operation. Even talk of creating a high school for LGBTQ youth has been stymied. Indeed, I predicted publicly at that time that there would be a hockey arena in Newark before any kind of LGBTQ Center. Sure enough, the city signed a deal to bring the New Jersey Devils to Newark a short time later.


It is time for Newark leaders to heed to cries of its LGBTQ constituents. Having a commission in name only does not help. How can we give advice to those who are not listening? Taking one day out to raise the rainbow flag over City Hall does not empower young people who still have to go into New York City to socialize. Where are the programs that were promised to the 2,500 young people who gathered for Sakia’s funeral in 2003?

As a member of the LGBTQ Commission and the Essex County Advisory Board, I am experiencing the frustration many feel — that we’ve been thrown a bone. While we make the city and county look progressive and diversified, this is really not the case. As executive director of the AAOGC, I am saddened that, for all my involvement in moving this community ahead, the lack of funding, continued social detriments, stigma and exclusion still remain a reality.

Gary Paul Wright is executive director of the African American Office of Gay Concerns, Newark. Have an opinion? Share it at njvoices.com.



1 Comment

  • Nia October 14, 2015 at 8:17 am

    I’ll help where I can! ’98 was my Senior year of HS so I’m smack in the time frame you’re looking for. 1- I was not aware of annyoe being trans. Whether this was because I just didn’t know any or I did but they were not open about it I’m not sure. Thinking back no one immediately comes to mind.2- I was (am) a child of very conservative parents (think Focus On The Family lifetime members that believe gay is a cardinal sin type) so all of the media I was exposed to was extremely judgmental and harsh. To say this didn’t make me feel awesome about myself would be the understatement of the year. 3- Growing up in my household meant every.single.thing. was monitored- books, magazines, music, friends- everything. As a result of this I didn’t have access to LGBTQ resources at all so I had to wing it as best as my confused and ashamed teenage self was able. 4- I don’t identify specifically as transmasculine but rather as genderfluid butch so this may not be of assistance. I ID’d as bi and heard butch and dyke used only as extremely negative, hateful slurs. I tried my best to blend in with the girls but after being told multiple times to dress like a girl because you are one’ I realized I wasn’t very successful so I gave up on dressing any particular way.5- I had several friends that were very promiscuous in a very unsafe way (no protection with many partners, cruising and unprotected sex with total strangers, etc) and I did not want to follow that example. High school in a small southern town is even more narrowminded than one might think so I was also determined to never make annyoe feel the way I was made to feel. Both of these things have played a huge part in my adult life. (I had no positive LGBTQ role models during these years as the environment just didn’t allow for it.)6- Again, not strictly transmasculine though I do present quite butch. The biggest factor in this is being in a more comfortable environment coupled with being tired of feeling like I was living in a skin that was stretched too tightly and hiding too many secrets. I have moved out of that town (out of that state, actually) and putting myself into a new environment where no one knew me and I could just be ME gave me the strength to do just that.7- Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, The Sisters Of Mercy, 2Pac, Bone Thugs, Fiona Apple, kd lang, Melissa Etheridge, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, a plethora of 80s rock all whilst being classically trained and singing classical pieces. Music has always been a huge and diverse part of my life.8- Murfreesboro, TN for the high school years. Does having only a Waffle House and a Hardees (at the time) count as rural? I think so. Also, listen to JD. you need to not just read Stone Butch Blues you need to own it!! If you have any further questions or want me to flesh out some details just pop me a message, I’ll be happy to help.Edison, I’m listening and in fact, I’m reading it now. Shit, it’s like reading my story, mine or that of a lot of butches I’ve met and talked to before. It’s brutal, but real, no wonder it has such an impact on people. I’ve already started writing bits and pieces about it into the story. It’s definitely integral.Thanks for sharing your experiences, I’ll post more questions if they come up and hope you’ll be right there to let me know what you think K


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