Garden State Equality, a New Jersey LGBT rights group, has appointed transgender activist and social worker Andrea “Andy” Bowen as executive director, BuzzFeed has learned.
Bowen will begin work at the organization Aug. 1, and will be one of the first out transgender individual to serve as executive director of a statewide LGBT rights group in the United States.
“I look forward to making sure that we have a really personal connection with New Jersey’s LGBT residents,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I also look forward to making sure that we have a really strong group of volunteers across the state. We want to be focused on empowerment of the community, and do solid organizing work.”
At the helm of Garden State Equality, Bowen said she plans to ensure that existing LGBT rights policies and protections are correctly implemented and followed as well as filling in gaps in the state’s policies, such as establishing transgender-inclusive healthcare across New Jersey.
“I’ve always focused on working in places that have gaps in policy and enforcement of what’s already there,” she said. “For example, we maintain working relationships with students and school officials to make sure the state’s anti-bullying law is being implemented correctly. I’d also like to work on ensuring that LGBT seniors are being taken care of.”
In addition to the anti-bullying law, New Jersey has seen recent advances in LGBT rights, such as a law prohibiting licensed medical providers from practicing conversion therapy, or efforts to turn a gay person straight, on minors that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law in August 2013. Same-sex couples are also able to legally marry in the state.
“I think of a few things: What’s best for the state and making sure we’re advancing the movement,” she said. “We can lead the way in New Jersey and show others how to do it right elsewhere. That’s the state’s history and Garden State Equality’s history.”
Previously, Bowen worked for years as an organizer in the Iron Workers Union and advocated for transgender rights and policy in Washington D.C., recently serving as a policy assistant at the National Center for Transgender Equality and as a social policy organizer at the D.C. Trans Coalition. Last summer, she led the push for the District’s comprehensive birth certificate and name change bill, which makes it easier for transgender people to obtain a birth certificate reflecting their gender identity.
Bowen again emphasized her focus on making sure existing LGBT policies and protections are carried out and enforced in the state.
“Our movement is very good at getting good policies in place,” she said. “I want to make sure the policies are actually being followed and the only way to know that’s being done is by having really good personal relationships with people on the ground — that the policies are being followed through on and that people are living good happy lives.”
Bowen is one of the first, but not the first, out transgender persons to head up a statewide LGBT group.