Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Equality & Justice Day – “I can act in solidarity”

Below is the fifth post in our series of E&J stories. Check back with us soon for more – and don’t forget to register for E&J Daythere are just four days left to register to guarantee your seat on a bus and your legislative visit.

Patty Bentley, United University Professions Union Member, North Country:

I go to Equality and Justice Day because I am passionate about equity and fairness. I go because I am secure both in my job and in my position as an out lesbian. I advocate for marriage equality because it is the only fair and just way to handle life partners and loving commitment among anyone, including same sex couples.

Two years ago, I asked to go to E&J Day as a member of my union and an active participant in our legislative advocacy. That year, I was the only member from my very large academic union -- but that is changing. I visited with my legislators, three upstate Republicans. The two Assemblymembers I met with were a total surprise. Assemblymember Teresa Sayward gave us an immediate signal of her intention to vote for all the bills under consideration, including marriage equality. She was compelling and wonderful in her explanation and emotional support for her son and his partner. Two weeks after that, she signed on as a sponsor of the bills (Marriage Equality, GENDA and Dignity for All Students). When the marriage equality bill came to the floor of the Assembly a few weeks later, she spoke from her heart on the floor of the Assembly and got a standing ovation from her colleagues.

When my Assemblywoman, Janet Duprey, voted against the bill then -- saying she did so because she didn’t feel she knew enough about the issue to vote otherwise -- I offered to bring some constituents to her local office and she eagerly accepted. She listened for over two hours to eleven people, each with a compelling and wonderful story about marriage equality and what it would mean to them. Six weeks later, I got a call from the Assemblywoman with the news that she was on board and would vote “yes” the next time the bill came to the Assembly. Not only was I encouraged about the eventual passage of real marriage equality for same-sex couples, but my faith in politics and politicians rose dramatically.

Last year I went to Equality & Justice Day again with a wonderful staff member from United University Professions (UUP). My Senator, Betty Little, was in committee, so we met with her Chief of Staff. I was impressed and moved by a gay couple from Glens Falls in my meeting who told the Chief of Staff that they wanted marriage equality in name and effect -- not a substitute like a civil union, domestic partnership or anything else.

For years I went to Albany and other cities for Pride events and enjoyed them immensely. They were political only in the sense of being out and visible and having a day, sometimes in the heat of June, to celebrate. I have become what, as a newly out lesbian in 1970, I abhorred: a “political lesbian” (a.k.a. “feminist”). So, I’ve come to believe that the Empire State Pride Agenda is the group that I need to be involved with at this point, because that is where I can be heard and make a difference. On E&J Day, I can act in solidarity with all the wonderful gays, lesbians, trans folk, queer and questioning, straight allies, youth, religious community, union members, workplace advocates, political activists and people new to advocacy -- all people who arrive to speak an be heard. It’s fun, it’s needed, and it is empowering.

Come join us in Albany. We have work to do, and you can help.

Want to join us in Albany for Equality & Justice Day? Click here for more information or to register. Sign up now – the deadline to register to be guaranteed transportation and a legislative visit is April 10 – just four days away!

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