Newark, NJ - Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. and the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board hosted the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration on Wednesday, June 12. During the ceremony, DiVincenzo presented Pride of Essex County Awards to Dean Dafis, Maplewood Township Committee Member; Dr. Wartyna Davis, Bloomfield Councilwoman, and Shannon Cuttle, South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education Member, in recognition of their support in the struggle for equality for the members of the LGBTQ community.
"Every year in Essex County, we celebrate Pride Month and our LGBTQ community. It is our opportunity to raise awareness about issues that affect this segment of the population and recognize outstanding members of our own LGBTQ community," DiVincenzo said. "Our three honorees have done the difficult work in their respective fields of providing support, protecting human rights and promoting understanding," he remarked.
Dean Dafis is the first LBGTQ elected member of the Maplewood Township Committee. He is also a Maplewood Library Foundation board member, a South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race Trustee, a Maplewood Green Team member and is engaged with SOMA Action, SOMA DEMS, SOMA Justice and other grassroots groups.
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Prior to relocating to Maplewood, he was a community activist who advocated for marriage equality and anti-conversion therapy and was part of the Lambda Legal Cooperating Attorney Network. Previously, Mr. Dafis was an attorney on Wall Street representing JPMorgan Chase in complex securities fraud litigation and worked in the criminal courts of Virginia in the Office of the Public Defender. Currently, he is Managing Director/Executive Recruiter assisting Fortune 500 companies and global law firms in meeting their staffing needs.
Dafis also worked with local officials on community issues for over 10 years in New York City. He volunteered in many organizations and was an official Board member in association with Manhattan's Community Board 4, Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, Garment District Alliance Business Improvement District and Greenwich Village/Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. Through his advocacy and volunteerism, he helped serve over 100,000 constituents on issues such as greater pedestrian safety, public safety, parks and recreation, affordable housing, senior citizen rent protections and locally/minority-owned businesses support.
He received his undergraduate degree from Temple University and attended T.C. Williams School of Law in Richmond, Virginia.
"I am honored and delighted to receive this recognition. Joe, I thank you for your continued commitment to the LGBTQ community and welcoming me from the start. I have always felt at home when talking with you. When we honor the advocates, we are honoring the work they do for equality," Dafis said.
Dr. Wartyna "Nina" Davis is a Bloomfield councilwoman and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at William Paterson University. Prior to her current role at William Paterson University, she was a full-time professor of Political Science and served for seven years as chair of the Political Science Department.
Davis is an interdisciplinary scholar who has published and presented works on intersectional identity and politics. She is a self-described scholar advocate and is committed to researching, educating and advocating for issues of justice and fairness. Davis is a member of the Demarest Elementary Home and School Association, the First Congregational Church, the Montclair Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and was selected for the 2011 Leadership New Jersey Fellow.
Davis has received many awards and recognitions including being cited for innovative teaching by the American Political Science Association, recognition as a "phenomenal woman" on campus, Outstanding Community Leader Award, Umoja Award and Woman of Vision Recipient. She has also been honored by the Essex County Freeholders during the 2014 African American History Month celebration for her contributions to the community.
She received her bachelor's and master's degree in Political Science from the University of Alabama and her PhD in Political Science from Florida State University.
"To say I am humbled by this recognition is an understatement because it is hard to imagine a program like this taking place 30 years ago. Thank you to Joe DiVincenzo for your continued commitment to the community and especially to good government," Davis said.
Shannon Cuttle has been a member of the South Orange-Maplewood School District Board of Education since 2018. Cuttle made history as being the first elected member to be openly transgender non-binary. In 2018, Cuttle was appointed to the NJSDC Affirmative Action Committee by the New Jersey State Democratic Committee and to serve as a Trustee of the Library by Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca. In 2017, Cuttle was elected as a Maplewood Democratic Committee District Leader.
Cuttle is known as a social justice advocate, educator, school administrator and global policy leader and is a nationally-recognized leader in the safe schools movement. In 2006, Cuttle launched the Safe Schools Action Network which is a resource for networking and connecting students, educators and communities to materials and resources in building safer schools.
Cuttle has been an advocate for intersectional inclusive safer schools and anti-bias educators and has traveled nationally as a speaker, trainer, consultant and adviser to K-12 schools, colleges, universities, community organizations and governmental agencies, including the Newark LGBT Center, District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, PBS Learning, U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, the Congressional Anti-bullying Caucus and the Federal Safe Schools Roundtable under the Obama administration. Cuttle's work has led to successful statewide, national and international educational and civil rights policy implementation of best practices for students, schools and communities.
During Cuttle's tenure as managing director of Garden State Equality, many successful policy efforts were achieved, including passing a ban on the harmful practice of conversion therapy, making New Jersey the second state to pass such legislation.
"I am humbled to be here because I stand before you on the shoulders of those who paved the way before me," Cuttle said. "My life's mission has been to ensure all young people have access to safe places."
The Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration is the part of a yearlong cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County's diversity. Other cultural heritage celebrations include African American History Month, Irish Heritage Month, Women's History Month, Italian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage, Portuguese Heritage and Latino Heritage. Created in December 2010, the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board is one of several volunteer advisory boards that discusses issues affecting the community and provides recommendations to the Essex County Executive.