Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of heading across the bridge to Southern New Jersey LGBTQ Pride.
It was a beautiful day, and the festival was joyful. Set on the bank of Cooper River Park, the event was a cross between a concert and a picnic. People brought blankets and chairs, coolers and grills, and a good time was had by all. The free festival hosted drag kings and queens, hip-hop dance performances and the infamous annual voguing contest. The headliner for the event was the one and only Frenchie Davis who performed several songs including one of my favorites, “Home.” Vendor tents stretched down the street, and I was able to renew my supply of rainbow gear, purchase homemade bread pudding and learn about organizations I hadn’t seen at other festivals. One table that caught my eye was promoting a campaign called, “Give us a Brake (Light),” so I spoke with the co-chair of the organization, Lucian.
PGN: Are you a true New Jersian?
L: Yes. I grew up in West Deptford, but whenever I’m traveling, I always have to say Philly ’cause no one seems to know where South Jersey is. I have also lived in Kansas and Massachusetts but ended up back in South Jersey.
PGN: What took you to Kansas?
L: I had an ex-partner who was in the military. He was stationed out in Kansas, and then when that relationship didn’t work out, I ended up staying with a friend in Massachusetts. When she moved back home, I ended up coming back home.
PGN: Give me the 411 on you.
L: I’m from a small family. I have two younger half-brothers. When I’m not being co-chair with South Jersey Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), I run an LGBTQ horror website, and I’m also a writer. So that’s most of where my time is spent when I’m not working.
PGN: And what is it that you do when you are working?
L: I am the lead phone advocate for a women’s center that is an advocacy center for a chain of abortion clinics on the East Coast. Basically, we handle scheduling, funding and anything besides, you know, doing the actual procedures.
PGN: As an outsider, I see on the news and in films that it can be dangerous and difficult work. What would you say is the worst thing that the clinic has had to face?
L: The most difficult part is dealing with cases when it comes to access. There’s a whole bunch of different laws in the different states and issues with transportation and most of all with funding for people whose insurance doesn’t cover abortions or, in the case of Pennsylvania, where Medicaid doesn’t cover the cost of abortion unless there are specific, special circumstances. For the majority of our patients, we have to help with raising funds toward their procedures.
PGN: Does the clinic deal with harassment and protesters?
L: We do have protesters almost every day where we work, and we occasionally have harassing phone calls, but it’s nothing much more than a lot of people espousing their religious beliefs at us. You know, the typical tropes, “You’re going to hell,” “You’re killing babies,” that kind of thing.
PGN: Some people don’t realize that centers do so much more than allowing for choice.
L: Absolutely, our center, in particular, is very involved with the community and doing other things outside of abortion access and reproductive justice. We’re involved with almost every progressive organization in New Jersey.
PGN: Nice. How did you get into that job?
L: Through the DSA, of which I am now the co-chair. My partner and I started going to meetings in April of 2018. We went to a bowl-a-thon which is a charity event to raise money toward funding organizations like the center, and so I got connected through that. I was actually volunteering as a clinic escort when I got the job I have now.
PGN: So taking you back a little bit. What were your interests as a child and what did you want to be when you grew up?
L: So I wanted to be a couple of things when I was growing up. First, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was really into dinosaurs. Then, I wanted to be a vet. There was a time I wanted to do criminal justice work. I have a psychology degree with a dual minor in social services and sociology, and I thought I’d do something in that field.
PGN: And what did (or do) your parents do?
L: My mom is mostly a stay-at-home mom, and my stepdad is a financial consultant.
PGN: Any pets growing up?
L: Our house was often loud because we had so many pets. At one point, I think we had three dogs two cats, a frog, a lizard, a couple of rats — things like that. We never learned what an “inside” voice was supposed to be!
PGN: What spurred your altruistic side?
L: I’ve always been very involved when it comes to helping other people. I think I definitely get that from my mom. My mom was always either taking in animals or helping her friends. So that was definitely a value that was instilled from a young age — that you should always help out where you can.
PGN: How did you become co-chair of the South Jersey Democratic Socialists of America and for those who don’t know what the organization stands for, tell me a little bit about it.
L: I became co-chair because I became pretty involved with the organization, basically going to every meeting. It started as the Queer Socialist Working Group last year. When a person from South Jersey was arrested for protesting at Philly Pride about the police inclusion, I kind of spearheaded our chapter’s organization for helping raise awareness about what happened to her. You know, getting emails and letters and all that sent to Krasner. And so through that, I ended up becoming co-chair. We hold elections for that. As for what we do, we’re an organization based on mutual aid, community power and fighting oppression; we’re anti-imperialist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist. And we’re really focused on really helping grow community power with things like the “Give us a Break (light)” clinic.
PGN: That’s what made me stop at the table. On the way to the festival, there was a cop behind me. I knew my brake light was out so I was trying not to stop because I was afraid he’d pull me over.
L: The most common reason people are pulled over, especially people of color, is because their brake lights are out. Minor infractions that lead to a ticket that can lead to an arrest that could be well avoided.
PGN: And worse, looking at Sandra Bland who was pulled over for not using a turn signal and ended up dead.
L: Yes, things can escalate quickly with the police. So we’re holding a brake light clinic to help people avoid getting stopped in the first place. We want to get out in the community and raise awareness, so we’re checking and changing brake lights for free and helping people avoid unnecessary police interaction.
PGN: What are some of the issues that you’re finding specifically for queer people of color and queer trans people as opposed to folks in general who are having issues with the law?
L: A lot of it is access to resources, you know, being able to afford things like name changes, gender marker changes, navigating the system and accessing health care. And right now, there’s an epidemic of trans women being murdered. We’re at 19 for the year already.
PGN: What are some of the services or outreach that the organization does for folks?
L: We’re working on a lot of collaborations, like with the ACLU, to help people afford name changes. In the state of New Jersey, it’s about $700. That’s not a number that’s feasible for most people, especially a lot of trans people who may have difficulty in the job market to start with.
PGN: How can people get involved?
L: We have a general meeting the third Saturday of every month and it’s held at different libraries across South Jersey. The next one’s going to be on September 21 in Blackwood, New Jersey. And after that meeting, we’re going to be doing our training for the brake light clinic.
PGN: What are some of the other things that you’ve done similar to the brake light clinic in the past?
L: So for a while, we had a pretty regular anti-war rally in Haddonfield that we would do, and recently there was an alt-right and fascist conference in Pitman, New Jersey, and we worked with other groups to protest until it was canceled. They ended up having to go to Philly and keep it under wraps. We wanted to “out” them and let the community know that they were trying to recruit and create a bigger alt-right white supremacist base in our area.
PGN: Cool. Tell me a little bit more about you. What kind of things do you enjoy outside of the work that you do?
L: I play a lot of video games. I’m also a writer. I have two pet rats that are basically my children. Their names are Chicken and Monster. I live with my partner of almost seven years. You know, just kind of relaxing. Most of my time is spent with the DSA and for organizing. As I said, I have an LGBTQ horror website called “Gender Terror,” and I’m the sole person who runs that. We commission original artwork, stories, conduct interviews and do reviews. So basically reaching out, getting all that information and editing it all, which takes up a good chunk of time.
PGN: When did you first start to come out?
L: So I’m a nonbinary trans person. I originally came out as bisexual in the sixth grade and then I came out as trans a couple of times to my family, but they didn’t quite take me seriously until I actually started transitioning around when I was 20. I haven’t really been able to be super open until relatively recently, at least when it comes to the workplace. My current job is extremely trans friendly. It’s the first place that uses my preferred pronouns, they and them. But in general, I’ve always been a very open, very out there kind of person. I had a friend in high school who had a running joke, “You’re not out of the closet, you’re in the next room.” So I’ve always been that way. Not only with my identity, but also with my politics and my activism.
PGN: How did you meet your partner?
L: I met my partner, funny enough, online through a trans gaming sub-Reddit that I created looking for somebody to help me learn how to play a specific video game called League of Legends. So we got connected through that.
PGN: What was the first R-rated movie you ever saw?
L: I saw “Hellraiser” when I was five.
PGN: What’s a fun thing you did with the family?
L: Back in high school, my family went to Bermuda, and we went snorkeling, and we saw a shark. It was the closest I’ve ever been to that kind of exotic wildlife.
PGN: Who would you contact in a seance?
L: David Bowie. I was actually pretty devastated when he died. I think I was up for 24 hours. He was the first queer, gender nonconforming icon that I really attached to.
PGN: What keeps you up at night?
L: Probably the end of the world climate change mob — wondering if we’re doing enough for people to really realize how serious things are.
PGN: What misconceptions do you think people have about Socialists?
L: That we’re going to take your toothbrushes. A lot of people have an idea that we want your personal and private property. That’s not the case. We believe everybody should have housing. Nobody should own 20 condos with people starving on the street in front of them.
PGN: As we speak, the Democratic primary debate is happening. And this is, I think, the first time that I’ve heard the name Socialist being tagged with Democrats like AOC and Bernie. What are your thoughts?
L: As a national organization, we endorse Bernie. There are some issues that our chapter has, but we recognize that no candidate is perfect. It’s a matter of holding people accountable and trying to show them the harm and hoping that maybe they’ll work to do better.