SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The flagpole at the intersection between South Orange and Irvington avenues now has another flag flying alongside the Stars and Stripes, after the South Orange Board of Trustees and residents of both South Orange and Maplewood raised the light blue, pink and white stripes of the transgender pride flag on Aug. 3. Village President Sheena Collum organized the event, which went on despite the rain that started midway through the ceremony.
The village’s Board of Trustees, along with transgender members of the community and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, raised the flag in response to President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that transgender people are no longer allowed to serve in the military.
“No one is truly free while others are oppressed,” Collum said at the event. “To the transgender community: We stand with you, we will fight for you and we love you. Trump is entitled to his own opinions, but he is not entitled to his own facts.”
According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, 20 percent of transgender individuals have served in the military, which is double the percentage of non-transgender people in the United States. The medical costs that were cited as one of the reasons for the ban have been disputed by a study done by the Rand Corporation in June 2016, which said that military spending for transgender individuals would only increase by between 0.04 and 0.13 percent.
DeLuca echoed Collum’s statements, saying: “We stand together, and the fight continues from this day forward.”
As people gathered on South Orange Avenue with handmade signs and posters showing their support for the transgender community, and LGBT community as a whole, Barbara Siperstein addressed the crowd. Siperstein is a former Army sergeant and the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee.
“I’m really moved by this, especially by the flag being here,” Siperstein said. She described the work she did while in the Army, and the struggles of transgender individuals in the military.
“We have to get ready for the elections of 2017 and 2018,” she said, referring to the midterm elections that could change laws that are currently in place. “We have to take America back.”
Cecelia Cranko, a transgender South Orange resident, also spoke at the flag raising.
“Seeing all of you here gives me hope,” she said. “You came to support those who are trans for whatever reason. We’re not asking anyone to agree with who we are; we’re asking (you) to see us for who we are.”
As the flag was raised by the South Orange Fire Department, Collum said that it had been specially ordered for the event, joking: “You can’t order a flag this big online.”
When the flag was flying, residents were invited inside to enjoy sheet cakes decorated to look like the flag.
Sue Fulton, chairwoman of the Board of Visitors at West Point and a member of the first class of women to graduate from the military academy, closed out the ceremony by discussing her work to help repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy put in place by former President Bill Clinton and revoked by former President Barack Obama.
“If you’ve worked and sacrificed for your country, you shouldn’t have to lie about who you are,” Fulton said.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic