An Open Letter to Montclair Voters From At-Large Candidate Peter Yacobellis
As an LGBT family, my partner and I chose Montclair because we knew it was a welcoming, tolerant community that valued diversity in all its forms and offered many meaningful ways for residents who did not have children, but who wanted to enjoy a suburban lifestyle, to participate and contribute to community life. I decided to run for Montclair Councilor-at-Large because I believed I had a set of skills and experience that will help Montclair address the many issues and challenges that concern residents. I was not expecting my identity, or our personal decision not to have children, to become campaign issues in 2020, but as an activist who has dedicated my life to advancing equality and human rights, I must address this criticism directly.
As a gay man who was forced to endure conversion therapy, and who was discharged from the Air Force under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — denied the opportunity to serve my country and subjected to the ritual public humiliation that was part of the discharge process — I believe it is my duty and my obligation to put myself out there publicly as a survivor and role model for LGBTQ youth and young adults, in whatever endeavors I am pursuing. I was fortunate that I was able to transform these traumatic experiences into a force for good, a positive motivation to dedicate my life to activism and advocacy. However, many others are not so lucky. The rate of depression, suicide and homelessness among LGBTQ youth remains unacceptably high, as does the bullying and violence directed against them. These issues that impact the LGBTQ community, like the HIV/AIDS crisis a generation ago, are literally matters of life and death. I believe that those of us who can offer ourselves as a symbol of hope and encouragement, who can give them a voice, are morally bound to do so.
I am very proud of my activism. I helped organize the march on Washington that led to the reversal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and through my work with the Trevor Project, I have worked tirelessly to prevent bullying and suicide of LGBTQ youth. But this is not why I am asking Montclair voters to support me. Montclair needs to elect the candidates who will be best for the future of Montclair. However, as I work to inform voters about my views and experience related to such issues as recovering from COVID-19, development, affordability, parking, education and sustainability, I am also compelled to use this opportunity to speak to the LGBTQ youth of our community. I would be derelict in my responsibilities as a human being if I failed to do so.
Which brings me to my final point, the suggestion that not having children disqualifies me from running for office. Healthy communities need to maintain a strong mix of families and childless households — seniors, singles or childless couples — to maintain the proper balance in the demand for services. Families like mine pay the same property taxes as our neighbors without increasing enrollment in our school district. We may patronize restaurants and nightlife more often or have more time and disposable income to support community organizations than do busy parents trying to raise children and support their families. Because we do not have children, my partner and I only need one car and can conduct most of our local transportation by bicycle. It is imperative for Montclair’s future that we maintain this balance, and that our government represents the diverse range of families who live here.
I believe that Montclair needs forward thinking leadership to meet the challenges of the future, and those who would take issue with my identity or the configuration of my family are the antithesis of progressive, forward thinking. I hope when you vote on your mail in ballot, you will vote for the promise of our future, not the old thinking of the past.
This is not about the politics of identity, but the urgency of representation, of electing leaders who will prioritize their responsibility to be a voice for those whose voices are not being heard.
Peter Yacobellis is a first-time candidate for a Councilor-At-Large position in the current race to elect a new local government in Montclair. You can vote for Peter on the ballot you should have received in the mail. Be sure to return it by May 12th. If you need ballot support visit www.peterformontclair.com/vote