Towns mourn loss of influential activist

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MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Maplewood and South Orange communities mourned the recent loss of Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, the Edison woman who crusaded for LGBT rights in New Jersey and nationally. Siperstein died of cancer at age 76 on Feb. 3, just two days after the “Babs Siperstein Law” went into effect; the state measure allows New Jerseyans to change the gender on their birth certificates to male, female or undesignated without proof of surgery.

South Orange and Maplewood joined other New Jersey communities in flying the flag at half-staff to honor this larger-than-life civil rights crusader.

The Babs Siperstein Law was a major victory for the transgender community, as it is still difficult in many states to change one’s gender on a birth certificate. The measure had been passed by state Legislature twice, first being vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie, and ultimately being signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Siperstein, an Army veteran, was a civil rights trailblazer who was relentless in her pursuit of seeking equal rights, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for everyone marginalized in society. She was also the force behind New Jersey’s inclusive nondiscrimination law that included protections for transgender New Jerseyans as well as for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

The South Orange community was overjoyed in 2018 when Siperstein attended a transgender flag raising in the village.

“Babs was a true friend to the South Orange community and attended various events as a guest speaker sharing her story and her message,” village President Sheena Collum said on behalf of the Board of Trustees. “She made us better individuals and a better community. Her memory will certainly live on and this is an appropriate and small gesture of saying thanks.”

The Maplewood Township Committee held a moment of silence for Siperstein at its Feb. 5 meeting, where Mayor Vic DeLuca announced that, in addition to flying the U.S. flag at half-staff, the township would be flying the transgender flag at half-staff, too.

“Barbra Siperstein, most regularly known as ‘Babs,’ was one of our great advocates,” Committeeman Dean Dafis said at the meeting. “Babs was an advocate years and years ago for equality at a time when it wasn’t as it is today. It wasn’t popular and it certainly wasn’t something that you talked about openly, especially for a transgender activist as she was. She did it visibly, consistently, unequivocally for many years, passing many laws through the New Jersey State Legislature, including her namesake legislation, which she fortunately got to the see the governor sign on Friday, before she died on Sunday.”

Born Barry Siperstein on Nov. 20, 1941, in Jersey City, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s of business administration in public accounting before joining the family business, Siperstein Fords Paint Corp. As Barry Siperstein, she married wife Carol and has three children. In her 50s, Siperstein told her wife she was transgender; Carol supported her and the two remained together. Carol Siperstein, nee Slonk, died in 2001; it was around this time that Barbra Siperstein began advocating publicly for transgender rights.

Predeceased by her wife, Carol, Siperstein is survived by her partner, Dorothy Crouch; sister, Sherry Grosky; daughter, Jana Siperstein-Szucs; sons, Jeffrey and Jared Siperstein; and five grandchildren.