Getting Ready for the Ball!

| Jan 1, 2018

Looking forward to a new Administration, a new Governor here in New Jersey, with great anticipation I just bought my tickets to incoming Governor Murphy’s Inaugural Ball. As I look back in time at all the events that I’ve attended, one Ball, one serendipitous connection, proved to have a strong positive effect for transgender equality. So, I’ll save the best for last.

As a member of the Imperial Court of NY where my title is HRH Princess Royale, Babs Crystal De Cantor, I always look forward to putting on the big wig, wearing my finest bling as accoutrement to my formal gown and trying to look “fabulous” at the annual “Night of A Thousand Gowns” in New York. It is a wonderful experience and a charity fund raiser where it is impossible to overdress in a make-believe world of Royalty and Imperial protocol!

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It’s great fun, we try to be Fabulous, but it’s really mostly make believe.

Maybe not as much fun or full of glitz and glamour are the political Inaugural balls. My first as an “out” trans activist was in January 2006 for New Jersey Governor Corzine. I brought my reluctant non-political daughter who was waiting for it to end until I ran into a friend, an Assemblyman who brought his daughter and they immediately connected (they certainly had several things in common, including the question, “why does my father have to shlep me to these political things where I don’t know anyone”). Although, life, marriages and family have taken each to a different complicated journey they are friends today.

Babs and spouse at the Obama Inauguration Ball.

In 2009, to celebrate President Obama’s Inaugural, we went to the unofficial LGBT Ball at the Mayflower Hotel where we celebrated with our Stonewall, National Equality, HRC and many queer political friends from across the U.S.A. who were in attendance and so full of hope and joyous anticipation of steps forward in “Equality.” I’ll be honest, not having to wear the big tiara was quite enjoyable!

To celebrate Obama’s inaugural in 2013, we did two Balls in DC. We first attended the New Jersey State Society Ball joining a diverse who’s who of political leaders, lobbyists and activists in my home state. The food was good, it had a Jersey theme and was fun! The next evening we attended one of the official Balls with The President and First Lady at the Washington Convention Center with many great entertainers including Stevie Wonder. It was something to do “once.” It was exciting as there was much joy to share, but queuing up in the long, long lines in the cold was neither pleasant nor healthy, the food was sparse and it was just too damned big.

There was one inaugural ball after which my attendance did have a direct political effect on a major political figure as he must have recounted the story to colleagues and staff. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, was a progressive giant who may be remembered best across America as the man who successfully spearheaded the law that gave us smoke free air travel. As a co-founder of payroll giant ADP he was a self-made multi-millionaire who never forgot his working class inner city roots and was able to relate to people. Frank had a great sense of humor, often self-deprecating, and I always enjoyed being with him.

Babs with Sherrod Brown (L) and Frank Lautenberg (R).

Although I’ve been around a long, long time, my career as a LGBT political activist is relatively recent. My first campaign was as a volunteer and organizer for Frank Lautenberg’s last minute run for Senate in the fall of 2002. Senator Bob Torricelli had suddenly dropped out of the race, and Frank came out of retirement to replace him at the 11th hour and won. I think it was in the late spring of 2003, LGBT activists Marty Finkle and Michael Plake hosted a LGBT meet and greet for community activists to meet Senator Lautenberg at their home in suburban Essex County. Among the many gays and lesbians present, there was a small group of transgender activists. Among the few of us were GRAANJ co-founders Donna Cartwright (who had publicly transitioned on the job as an editor for The New York Times) and Terry McCorkell (a leader with Renaissance, NOW and local organizations). During the formal question period, Donna asked the Senator if he would support a transgender inclusive ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) which in its then current state included only gays and lesbians. It caught him completely by surprise and he looked like a deer in a car’s headlights.

Needless to say we all were, at best, disappointed in his response or lack thereof. Some complained, I said nothing realizing that he had been away from Congress for a few years and his office had not been fully staffed nor had he been brought up to speed on the policy nuances. In the meantime, I became more and more involved with New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, developed a genuine friendship with Sharon Harrington his new State Director and kept getting invited and showing up to various events with Frank, often just having brief chit chats with him. At one event, I finally had a little quiet one-on-one time with him. I told him that the last time we had a conversation was at Jim McGreevy’s gubernatorial Inaugural Ball in January of 2002. I recounted how he told me about his being retired and how he was looking forward to writing a book among other things . . . he remembered the conversation, but he was looking at me funny, quizzically and perhaps a bit confused . . . I waited, smiled and told him that I was wearing a tuxedo at the time . . . it was barely a second later and a light switch suddenly went on . . . he got it!

The next time he was asked in public about a transgender inclusive ENDA, his response was very clear, he would not support an ENDA that was not inclusive. Personally, I believe it helped cement a friendship and when he ran again in 2008, I was honored to step in as his surrogate along with his son Josh at public events he could not attend because of scheduling conflicts. He was a fighter and a great ally!

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Category: Politics

About Babs: “Babs” is a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, Deputy Vice Chair of the NJ Democratic State Committee and Political Director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of NJ. For the current campaign she serves on the Executive Committee of Trans United 4 Obama. She has served as Vice Chair of the DNC Eastern Caucus, President of NJ Stonewall Democrats, Co-Chair of National Stonewall Democrats Federal PAC Board, Vice-Chair of Garden State Equality, Executive Board member of National Stonewall Democrats as Chair of the DNC Relations Committee and a member of the NJ Civil Unions Review Commission.

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