Steven Goldstein Leaving Garden State Equality for Rutgers Post

Troy Stevenson and Steven Goldstein. | GARDEN STATE EQUALITY

Troy Stevenson and Steven Goldstein. | GARDEN STATE EQUALITY

Steven Goldstein, who has served as chair and chief executive officer of Garden State Equality (GSE) since founding the New Jersey LGBT advocacy group in 2004, is stepping down from his post to become associate chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark.

More than 200 LGBT civil rights measures –– including a highly regarded school anti-bullying statute as well as statewide antidiscrimination protections for the transgender community and a broadening of New Jersey’s hate crimes law –– have been enacted in Trenton and in counties and municipalities across the Garden State during Goldstein’s tenure.

Still, his impassioned push to enact marriage equality there has remained elusive –– thwarted first by the State Senate’s refusal in January 2010 to pass the measure in the waning days of Democratic Governor John Corzine’s administration, when it would have been signed into law, and last year, when Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill after its passage in the Senate and Assembly.

Goldstein, who is 50, will be replaced at GSE by 36-year-old Troy Stevenson, who for three years held the number two spot at the group as managing director before taking time off last year to work on the Obama campaign’s Pennsylvania effort. Stevenson, whom Goldstein said he “groomed” for the top spot, is a native of Oklahoma City and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from London’s University of Westminster.

In a press release announcing the change in leadership, Stevenson pledged, “We will win marriage equality through an override in 2013.”

Last year, the bill passed 24-16 in the State Senate, where 27 votes are needed to override a Christie veto, and 42-33 in the Assembly, where 54 votes are needed for an override. The bill –– which had never before gotten a vote in the Assembly — had only 14 supporters in the Senate when first brought to the floor in 2010. The Assembly currently has 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans, while the Senate has a 24-16 Democratic edge. A year ago, gay marriage had the support of a couple of Republicans in each chamber.

The executive committee of GSE’s board of directors approved Stevenson’s appointment in a teleconference on January 2. Stevenson will assume his new post on January 21, two days before Goldstein steps into his new role at Rutgers-Newark.

“Working by my side, Troy is the person I someday wanted to take my place, which you bet he can,” Goldstein said in a release following the board’s action. “So many of you know and love him. He is an extraordinary field operative, political talent, and all-around human being.”

Stevenson responded, “Steven has been a mentor to me and to thousands of others. He has not only founded an organization that has led the way for some of the most important civil rights laws of our time, but he has also inspired a new generation to get involved and change the world. I will work night and day to continue his legacy seamlessly.”

Goldstein’s founding of GSE in 2004 came one year after Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit seeking equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, an effort that led, in 2006, to a unanimous State Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples deserved all the rights and benefits of marriage. Only a minority of that united court, however, found that the State Constitution required that the name marriage be given to such unions. The State Legislature quickly adopted a civil union law to comply with the court’s decision.

As GSE’s leader, Goldstein seemed at times to be everywhere at once, taking a highly visible role in both official settings and public demonstrations across the state and returning reporters’ phone calls with uncanny speed. One of the best known advocacy efforts GSE took on was the fight waged by Ocean County Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester to win pension benefits for her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, during the last year of her battle against cancer. Hester prevailed just days before her death in a videotaped appeal from her hospital bed, and her struggle was told in a 2007 film “Freeheld,” which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary.

The group also fought a high profile –– and ultimately successful –– battle against the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group, which had barred a lesbian couple from using a boardwalk pavilion near the beach for their civil union ceremony even though the group routinely rents the space out as a public accommodation and has earned an environmental tax break for making the outdoor venue publicly accessible.

None of these efforts –– or even the enactment of the school bullying law, for which Goldstein praised Christie’s leadership –– rivaled the effort he put into the marriage equality cause. When named to a state commission to evaluate whether the civil union law was succeeding in delivering the equality mandated under the state high court’s ruling, Goldstein proved instrumental in that commission issuing a harshly worded report saying it was instead a failure. That report in hand, he and other GSE members lobbied Trenton legislators to embrace full marriage equality. The commission’s report has also played a critical role in deliberations by state courts and legislatures nationwide in weighing whether civil unions are an adequate remedy for the discrimination same-sex couples face.

Goldstein’s friendly relations with Christie smacked into a stonewall last February when the Republican governor told legislators not to waste their time on a marriage equality bill that he would veto. He instead urged advocates to try to enact gay marriage through a referendum, saying, “I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.” Cory Booker, the African-American mayor of Newark and an ally of GSE, shot back, “I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states.” Civil rights veterans from around the nation joined Booker in stinging criticism of Christie.

Even as GSE presses the effort to win enough votes for an override of Christie –– and Stevenson talks of victory this year –– Lambda is back in state court making both New Jersey and federal constitutional claims that the civil union statute violates the rights of same-sex couples.

In a message to the group’s nearly 125,000 members, released the evening of January 2, Goldstein pledged to remain visible in its fight for equality, saying he would accept the title of founder and honorary chair.

As associate chancellor for external affairs at Rutgers-Newark, he will be responsible for the university’s government relations and communications.

In a press release issued by the school, its interim chancellor, Dr. Philip L. Yeagle, said, “Steven has long been among New Jersey’s most compelling voices and steadfast leaders for the public interest. His political savvy and legendary tenacity have made him known in Trenton and across the state for making big things happen.”

Booker said, “Steven Goldstein is an inspired choice to be an associate chancellor at Rutgers-Newark. He is a transformational leader who has shaped one of the most powerful civil rights movements of our time, producing some of the most important civil rights laws of our time.”

A graduate of Brandeis University, with advanced degrees in government, journalism, and law from Harvard and Columbia, Goldstein formerly worked on the staff of the US House Judiciary Committee, as communications director for New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, and as a television news producer.