Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, a former Democratic National Committeewoman and an icon in New Jersey’s LGBTQ community, passed away on Sunday evening. She was 76.
An original board member for Garden State Equality, Siperstein played a major role in advocating for marriage equality, transgender inclusive nondiscrimination protections, and most recently the Babs Siperstein Law that allows for the selection of gender-neutral on a New Jersey birth certificate.
The law, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy last year, took effect three days ago.
“She was fearless, perhaps the most resilient person I have ever met,” Steven Goldstein, the founder of Garden State Equality, told the New Jersey Globe. “She never gave up. What she did for transgender people nationwide is impossible to evaluate in its greatness.”
Goldstein said he first met Siperstein on February 26, 2003 at a town hall meeting for marriage equality.
“She was wearing the biggest Star of David I had ever seen, and I was wearing a kippah the size of a UFO,” Goldstein recalled. “We started walking toward each other, yelling ‘mishpachach’ (the Yiddish word for family).”
The New Jersey LGBTQ community started out as a small group of about twelve activists at a time with approval for gay marriage was still polling under 30%.
“We were a small, tight knit group. We saw each other several times a week,” Goldstein said. “We were a family.”
Huttle said she was always remember Siperstein “as a tenacious fighter for equality.”
“She gave voice to so many who felt they were voiceless and reminded us how one person can change the world with a little push . I think one of her proudest moments was last May when she pressed the green button at my desk on the Assembly floor to vote Yes for the birth certificate bill named after her. Although her health was failing she had the strength to continue pursuing the legislation until becoming law,” Huttle said. “Always smiling ,I know the signings of the package of LGBTQ bills gave her not only a sense of pride but final accomplishments before she died. Her story and her advocacy will be remembered not only in the State House but in New Jersey.”
Siperstein was a successful businesswoman, running the iconic Siperstein Paint Company. She was a U.S. Army veteran. She came out t her family in the late 1980s but not publicly until 2000 when the Star-Ledger outed her.
“Babs was a towering figure in the LGBTQ community who worked tirelessly to advance the rights of transgender people over the last two decades. She was an architect of our movement, pioneering critical civil rights legislation here in New Jersey and, as the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee, throughout our nation,” said Garden State Equality executive director Christian Fuscarino. “With Babs, we had an LGBTQ icon—among the likes of Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, and Bayard Rustin—born and raised right here in the Garden State. With the Babs Siperstein Law now in effect, every transgender New Jerseyan who updates their birth certificate will be reminded of Babs and her courage. Babs’ work has touched countless lives and will continue to do so, and we will ensure her legacy is remembered for generations to come.”
Siperstein was a former New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, served on the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission and was political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey. She joined the Democratic National Committee in 2009 as the first openly transgender member.
She served on the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee from 2011 to 2017, when DNC chair Tom Perez removed her for backing his opponents, first New Hampshire Democratic State Chairman Ray Buckley and then Rep. Keith Ellison.
Gov. Phil Murphy called Siperstein “a tremendous, passionate advocate for NJ’s LGBTQ community, and a dear friend.”
“Babs— like no other—was instrumental in passing many of the 200+ LGBTQ civil rights laws and policies that Garden State Equality has secured in its fifteen year history,” said Tom Prol, a longtime Garden State Equality board member. “This is a tremendous loss for our community, and she will be sorely missed. Since the nascent days of Garden State Equality, Babs pushed us all to embrace an unmitigated pro-equality campaign that left no member of our community behind. Babs was truly unmatched and taught us all to never back down.”
Siperstein is survived by her partner and companion, Dorothy, and her children and grandchildren. She was predeceased by her wife, Carol, in 2001.