Essex County creates Offices of LGBTQ Affairs, names its first director

Photo Courtesy of Glen Frieson
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., second from right, announces the creation of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs and introduces Reginald Bledsoe, third from left, as its first director on May 13. From left are Hyacinth Foundation Executive Director and Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board Co-chairperson Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien, Senate Majority Leader and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff M. Teresa Ruiz, Bledsoe, Maplewood Mayor and Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board Co-Chairperson Dean Dafis, DiVincenzo, and Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board member Gary Paul Wright.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. announced the creation of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs and introduced Newark resident Reginald Bledsoe as its first director on Friday, May 13. The Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs will support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and provide a platform to address issues, advocate for reforms and raise awareness.

“I always say that the strength of Essex County lies in the diversity of our residents, and that includes the LGBTQ community. They have a tremendous role in all sectors of the county, from the arts to education to politics to business and our new LGBTQ Affairs Office will provide a platform for advocacy and raise awareness,” DiVincenzo said. “For years, our LGBTQ Advisory Board has advised my administration and, when they recommended that more attention be given to issues affecting the LGBTQ community, I knew the creation of this office was needed.”

“This is indeed a red-letter day for Essex County and its LGBTQ community. The creation of this office signals that LGBTQ-plus individuals are full members of the Essex County community and that the county government will listen to our concerns, address our needs and respond to our desires,” Bledsoe said. “This office would not exist without the work and advocacy of Essex County Executive Joseph N DiVincenzo, Jr., Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz; Director Anibal Ramos Jr. and the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board for their efforts to ensure that Essex County becomes an even more welcoming place for LGBTQ people.”

Elected officials and community members lauded the announcement and Bledsoe’s appointment.

“This office will help provide a different lens when we discuss policy, business development and education. This will provide another variable in making decisions to continue putting Essex County first,” Ruiz, who is state senate majority leader, said, adding that Bledsoe brings a unique perspective not only because of his personal experience but because he has worked at every level of government in New Jersey.

“What a day for Essex County. This is long overdue,” said Commissioner President Wayne Richardson, who was accompanied by Commissioners Tyshammie Cooper, Patricia Sebold and Len Luciano.

“Reggie is a tremendous individual who is right for the job,” Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II said, adding that his office “upholds the rights of everyone.”

“This is truly a landmark event in Essex County. Creating an office sends a strong message. Our equality, safety and happiness are intersectional,” said Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis, who also serves as co-chairperson of the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board. “This office will be a place where the LGBTQ community can seek advocacy, support and services, which is truly important at this time. I thank the county executive for being such an incredible ally.” 

“Reggie is the perfect individual for this job and we look forward to working with him,” said Hyacinth Foundation Executive Director Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien, who also serves as co-chairperson of the county’s LGBTQ Advisory Board.

Bledsoe is no stranger to Essex County having been born and raised in Newark, graduated from Essex County Newark Tech, elected as the youngest Democratic district leader in District 5 of Newark’s Central Ward and serving as a member of the Newark Board of Education from 2017 to 2020. He also received the Essex County Pride Award from DiVincenzo in 2017.

He worked in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration for four years, starting with the N.J. Department of Education before transitioning to the Department of Community Affairs. He also worked as a legislative aide to Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson and former Freeholder President Blonnie Watson. He currently serves as a member of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council.

Previously, Bledsoe served as an advisory board member for New Jersey Child Assault Prevention, a statewide community-based prevention program, and a legislative aide to Newark Councilman Eddie Osborne. He also has served in various capacities with the Newark municipal government, High Park Gardens Cooperative Corp. and the late U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. He is a former member of the New Jersey Federation of Housing Cooperatives and the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, and has been on the board of directors for United Community Corp., One Voice for LGBTQ Issues and Newark Gay Pride.

He is the recipient of numerous community awards. He was featured in Observer New Jersey’s “List of 50 Powerful Young Black Democrats” in 2015 and as one of “New Jersey’s 30 Under 30: Political Up-and-Comers” in 2016.

The Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs is part of the Essex County Division of Community Action. For information, call 973-395-8350.