Transgender rights activist Barbra Siperstein

February 18, 2019

Obituaries

Barbra Casbar Siperstein, who fought for transgender rights in the United States after her own gender transition in middle age, has died.

Siperstein died Feb. 3 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the age of 76. Her death came two days after a law named for her went into effect that allows New Jersey residents to amend the gender on their birth certificates without proof of gender reassignment surgery.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, after being vetoed twice by his Republican predecessor, Chris Christie.

Siperstein, an Army veteran who was born with the name Barry, told her wife, Carol, that she was transgender in the late 1980s. Her wife was supportive and the couple stayed together until Carol’s death in 2001. In the intervening years they had used an amalgamation of their initials and names as an alias, Casbar. While she had been transitioning in stages since telling her wife, Siperstein became a public advocate for gender equality and transgender rights.

In 2009, after completing sex reassignment surgery, she officially changed her Hebrew name from Eliezer Banish to Baila Chaya at a ceremony at her Conservative synagogue in Freehold, the New Jersey Jewish News reported at the time. Siperstein, known as “Babs,” was a principal in her family’s eponymous paint and wallpaper chain.

She was the first transgender member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, and served from 2011 to 2017. During that time, she successfully worked to convince the party to include gender identity as a category for protected rights. Also, during that time, she was a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.

Siperstein “was never shy to push us to open our hearts and minds, and to move our thinking ever forward,” Murphy said in a statement after her death. (JTA)

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