Why Is Shannon Cuttle's Candidacy Making History?

Shannon Cuttle Credits: Shannon Cuttle Facebook page

Shannon Cuttle is not your average school board candidate. 

One of eight challengers for the three Board of Education seats up for grabs next month, Cuttle has spent years working for equality, student rights, and anti-bullying causes.

Oh, and Cuttle also happens to be gender questioning. 

Sign Up for E-News

Or, specifically, “non-binary,” a term defined by the National Center for Transgender Equality as neither male nor female. In Cuttle’s case, as “someone who is neither one or the other.”

And if they (as Cuttle prefers to be referred to) succeeds, they would be the first such person to serve on the school board, and perhaps the first statewide. At a time when gay, lesbian and transgender issues are still hot topics, in and out of the classroom, such representation would be a milestone.

“Queer is an identity I use because it covers a multitude of things,” Cuttle said over breakfast Sunday at the Maplewood Diner, while reciting facts and figures about student bullying and queer youth needs in between bites of scrambled eggs. “I make sure I openly identify because it helps with visibility as someone who works with youth and families for young people to know there are people like them; and for other educators, other people to have someone they can identify with and see as a model.”

A former teacher from Michigan, the 41-year-old Cuttle helped launch the national Safe Schools Action Network, worked with Garden State Equality and consulted other educational outlets, and has been a Maplewood resident since 2013.

Also on the ballot in a potentially historic way is Dean Dafis, the Maplewood Township Committee (TC) candidate who is the first openly gay challenger to run for the TC and would be the first to serve if he wins Nov. 7 in the race that includes incumbent Victor Deluca and GOP challenger Mike Summersgill.

Dafis joined us at the diner Sunday and made clear his candidacy is about more than historic milestones and diversity. He listed his top priorities on the TC as affordability, public safety, and smarter economic development.

But he also knows having a gay committee member would mean a lot for equality and the Township.

“I think our kids are looking for role models, right?” Dafis said in our booth that overlooked Springfield Avenue. “It sends an important message to D.C. as well at a time when we’re going in a regressive mode culturally, rolling back a lot of things, a lot of gains we have made across the board in civil rights.”

Given Maplewood’s longtime acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender residents -- from the group gay wedding years ago at Town Hall to several Pride Festivals being held in Memorial Park -- electing such folks to our governing bodies would seem a no-brainer.

But like any candidates, they know they need to earn it with policies, experience and planning. Voters will decide how much their historic candidacies weigh in when compared to their other attributes.

An independent consultant on education policy, safer schools and anti-bias training, Cuttle said they “came out” at 26 on the cover of The Advocate, a national publication on gay rights, in 2002.

“Being someone who was assigned female at birth, I’ve always been me,” Cuttle explained. “My mom used to joke that I was born proudly wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. From an early age I’ve just been me.”

That “me” is something different for different people who question their birth or “assigned” gender, experts say. A TIME cover story earlier this year on gender identity stated:

These aspects of identity — the sense of being a man or a woman, for instance, and whom one is drawn to physically or romantically — are distinct. But they are related, and together, they're undergoing a sea change, as an increasing number of people say they aren't one or the other but perhaps neither or maybe both.

Cuttle chose to say less about their personal life, adding, “my individual choices and dating history does not make up who I am … I’m not reluctant, but me being LGBT is just part of who I am.”

But then speaking about growing up: “I was someone who stood up against stereotypical gender norms and was very social justice minded and an advocate for those in need and was taught from an early age the importance of social justice.”

Cuttle cites a battle to play T-ball as a youngster on a boys team as one of their first social justice fights.

Cuttle said the average age of when an LGBT student comes out is 11 to 13: “It was not common when I was that age. It is often assumed there is one type of coming out process for an LGBT person, but a person comes out many times in their lifetime in many different ways.”

Cuttle’s candidacy has drawn some strong support, with Township committee member Nancy Adams and former school board president Beth Daugherty among their backers.

It has also brought national support from the pro-LGBT Victory Fund, which backs LGBT challengers and named Cuttle among 16 candidates it supports this fall.

“Hostile political forces have successfully pushed anti-trans bills across the nation because trans people have been severely underrepresented and marginalized in our politics and our government,” Elliot Imse, The Victory Fund director of communication told me via email. “That is why Shannon Cuttle’s race is so important. We need more trans elected officials on school boards, and in local and state governments, because they humanize our lives, change the debate and influence positive legislation for our community. A win for Shannon would make history in New Jersey, which is why Victory Fund is proud to have their back.”

Dafis, an attorney who has been in a long-term relationship with his partner, George, said of Cuttle and others in the LGBT community that “often times when people are reading a bio or meeting someone, they want to go into those personal details … those details create a novelty thing that gets away from who the person is actually, ironically.”

Cuttle adds with a smile: “You want to know who I am and I am telling you who I am.”

This column has been edited for clarity since its original publication.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News



AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!


Maplewood Police Blotter - Two Motor Vehicle Thefts Reported, One Recovered

May 16, 2018

May 7 - Burglary; Sometime during the prior two days, entry was forced to a business on Newark Way.  The keys to a GMC van were then taken from inside the business and the van was stolen.


May 7 - Motor Vehicle Theft; At approximately 9:30 p.m., a Jeep left unattended and running in the parking lot of 7-11 on Irvington Ave was stolen. The vehicle was later recovered in ...

South Orange Police Blotter - More Than 10 Vehicle Burglaries Reported

South Orange Police Blotter as of May 14

Auto Theft - A Roland Ave resident reported that sometime between 10:30 pm, Thursday 5-10-18 & 7:30 am, Friday 5-11-18 actor(s) unknown stole his vehicle (2016 Mitsubishi), which was parked in his driveway of his residence at the time.

Burglary to Auto - A Vose Ave resident reported that sometime between 10:45 pm, Wednesday 5-2-18 & 8:00 ...

Maplewood Community Pool Scheduled to Open on Saturday, May 26

May 23, 2018

MAPLEWOOD, NJ -- The Maplewood Community Pool is scheduled to open this Saturday, May 26, and be open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (Memorial Day) from noon to 6 p.m., according to an update from the Maplewood Recreation Department.

For those who wish to join the pool, registration can be done in person at the Recreation Department (574 Valley St.) on weekdays from 9 a.m. to ...

South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Honors Melissa Kopecky and Sarah Lester at Annual Meeting

SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School (SOMAS) honored Melissa Kopecky, Director of the South Orange Library, and Sarah Lester, Director of the Maplewood Memorial Library, at its Annual meeting on May 21, according to a press release from SOMAS.

Kopecky has been the director of the South Orange Public Library for the last 14 years, and Lester ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, May 24, 6:00 PM

Millburn Free Public Library, Millburn

Steve Sandberg and Zach Brock to Perform at ...

Arts & Entertainment


Fri, May 25, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink


Fri, May 25, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Sun, May 27, 11:00 AM

The Ethical Culture Society of Essex County, Maplewood

Memorial Day Colloquy: What We Honor and How We ...


SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...

Millburn Parents and Students Come Out to Board of Education Meeting to Push for Teacher Contract Resolution

May 24, 2018

MILLBURN, NJ -- Millburn school district parents and student representatives urged the Board of Education on Monday to quickly settle ongoing contract negotiations with the Millburn Education Association.

The prolonged deadlock between the board and the teachers’ union has lasted nearly a year has been bad for teacher morale and was beginning to take a toll on students, particularly at ...

Philip Roth's Childhood Home Still Standing in Newark

NEWARK, NJ - The house at 81 Summit Avenue in Newark's Weequahic neighborhood is otherwise unremarkable expect for a sign attached to its faux flagstone facade noting that the home has been designated a historic site -- the childhood home of celebrated author Philip Roth, who died Tuesday at the age of 85.

There were no crowds outside the home to pay homage to the prolific ...

Phase II of the Stuyvesant Avenue Streetscape Project Set to Begin in Union

May 22, 2018

UNION, NJ – A groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday morning for Phase II of the Stuyvesant Avenue Streetscape Project which is set to begin soon.

“Phase I is complete and everyone loves it,” said Deputy Mayor Joseph Florio.  Florio said construction on the south end of Stuyvesant Avenue, from Morris Ave. to the cannon turnaround near Elmwood, should be complete by ...

DAWN of a New Day: New Treatment Insights Shared at Atlantic Health's 18th Annual 'Stroke Symposium'

MORRISTOWN, NJ - Time is of the essence when it comes to identifying and treating symptoms of stroke and it’s widely accepted that the sooner treatment is provided the better the outcome will be, however new research suggests that all hope isn’t lost for certain types of stroke victims whose symptoms aren’t treated until later in time after last being seen as ...

Township of Maplewood: Notice of Public Meeting to Discuss Proposals for Pedestrian Safety Improvements and Traffic Flow Changes

May 24, 2018

A public meeting will be held on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road, in the Great Hall, to present and discuss proposals for pedestrian safety improvements and traffic flow changes, including making Maplewood Avenue one-way from Baker Street to Lenox Place and reversing the direction of the NJT lot. Your presence is encouraged to apprise you of ...

Porchlight Post - Shedding Light On These Old Homes

You bought a new house (congratulations!) and its your first night in the new house. You get cozy and settle in for the night. Your husband wakes up early for work and then so do the kids. Its 5:30 a.m., and your hardwood floors creak so loudly it sounds like someone was trying to break-in. How did you not notice this before you moved in?

Or maybe you’ve been in your house for years and ...

2nd Annual Theater in The Park Returns to Founders Park in South Orange on June 3

The 2nd Annual Theater in The Park is coming to Founders Park on Sunday, June 3, from noon to 4 p.m.

Bring your blankets and chairs, grab some food and fun from one of our vendors and enjoy one or all of the performances by local talent. The event is free and open to everyone who wants to stop in and enjoy some entertainment.

Founders Park is located at 265 Valley St. in South ...