This week, Garden State Equality welcomes one of the first transgender executive directors to head a statewide organization.
Andrea “Andy” Bowen will take the helm of the New Jersey statewide LGBT organization Aug. 1. Bowen, 28, currently lives in Brooklyn but spent the last five years in Washington D.C.
She served as a former policy associate for the National Center for Transgender Equality and as a social policy organizer at the D.C. Trans Coalition.
Bowen received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2008 and just recently received her master’s in social work from the Catholic University of America.
After attaining her master’s, Bowen moved up north in search of jobs. She said she wanted to bring her years of experience engineering significant policy victories in D.C. into a prospective job.
Bowen describes herself as someone who has done “a wide variety of different things” throughout her career so far; for instance, she was an instrumental organizer in the Iron Workers Union was influential in pushing for D.C.’s comprehensive birth certificate and name change bill.
“For six years now I have been taking on this role of a person who absorbs info and figures out what to do,” she said, noting that she’ll bring her background as a policy advocate to GSE. “I learned ground work quickly and I have a quick mind for policy detail. I helped put together NTCE’s 10th anniversary event, gathered donations and helped with the donor list for the event. I worked operations for them and got to see up close and personal how an organization grows and sustains itself in a short period of time.”
The position at GSE continues that work, she added.
“I wanted to be able to make serious change for as many people as possible,” she said. “This position at Garden State Equality opened up and New Jersey is a state that in many ways resembles Washington D.C., where you have this very progressive community and large LGBT community that has gotten a lot of policy groundwork in place, but the question I was seeing in D.C. that I saw in New Jersey was to what extent is this all being implemented correctly.”
Bowen noted that Garden State Equality has made significant strides in garnering public support for pro-LGBT efforts, an aspect to which she was particularly attracted.
“I want to make sure policy is being used as fully as it can,” she said. “Garden State Equality is an organization that has worked hard to form personal connections with people and, coming from an organizational and social work background, that is the thing that attracted me to this position. People have such a warm association to volunteering with the organization so being able to connect with all of those people is something I wanted to pursue.”
Ensuring laws and policies are being fully and uniformly enforced across the state, she said, is key.
“New Jersey has great laws so we need to make sure they are being used,” she said. “That means you need to know the experiences of the people in Cherry Hill and Camden and all over the state and we need to have a big organizing push to make sure we are in intimate contact with people across the state — talking with them on how they are being treated in homeless shelters, schools, senior homes. So that will be my first main focus.”
Bowen said she also wants to bring more public attention to other LGBT issues besides marriage equality throughout the state.
“The story across the country is that as different states win marriage equality, a lot of people go, ‘We won and we are done,’ and that is not the case,” she said. “I understand why people think it is the case; they are not immersed in LGBT issues. This is the hard part now, making sure all LGBT laws are implemented and figuring out the nitty gritty of it all.”
Bowen will join former Equality Michigan executive director Denise Brogan-Kator as being among the first transgender individuals to take the helm of a statewide LGBT organization.
“I had a chat with Denise and I asked her — because there was some confusion on who was the first trans leader of a statewide LGBT organization — and I asked her if I was the first and she said, ‘No you are not, but I am glad I wasn’t the last.’ I am in the middle of the line and there are people who came before me who brought prominence to trans issues and LGBT issues more broadly. I may not be the first but it is amazing to be one of a group of people that can lead social-justice efforts where they need to be. I am so blessed to be where I am.”