Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vote for Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi to win the AT&T Bold Honor

This year, AT&T has established the “AT&T Bold Honor,” which recognizes an everyday individual in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community that has made a difference during the past year. As part of NYC Pride Week, AT&T is celebrating nominees who have been bold in the NYC LGBT community.

The Pride Agenda is proud to announce that our Executive Director Ross Levi has been nominated to receive this honor. Please vote for him in the poll below. Thanks for your support and congratulations to all the excellent nominees!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pride In Our Union: educating on marriage recognition and transgender heath benefits

A message from Sheilah Sable, Upstate Director of Pride in Action:

On June 8, 2010, I attended a meeting of the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) AFSCME Local 371 Committee on Social Work and the Political Action Committee. As part of our Pride in Our Union education efforts, this group of about 50 New York City social workers, caseworkers and local union staffers got together to learn more about marriage recognition benefits for same-sex couples and health benefits for transgender union members. Thanks to the Executive Vice President Yolanda Pumerejo who put this event together for her brothers and sisters at SSEU.

The discussion was a spirited one and addressed issues around benefits, or lack thereof, for LGBT union members. This local union (and its umbrella District Council 37) has been a pioneer in leading the way on specific benefits of importance to same-sex couples. In true keeping with the social justice commitment of these NYC social service workers, the conversation revolved around ways in which members could help make health benefits a reality for trans union members and marriage recognition benefits a reality for same-sex couples.

Materials were circulated outlining ways in which union members can help. These suggestions included: educating union leaders, staff, workplace supervisors and fellow union members about the issues; motivating union leadership to pass resolutions or memos in support of these issues; establishing clear workplace guidelines for transgender employees who are transitioning; being sensitive about locker rooms and bathrooms; finding ways to support transgender clients of city services by providing training to those who are working in that area; demonstrating a commitment to fairness and dignity; and offering gender neutral restrooms and other facilities.

In negotiating for both marriage recognition benefits and benefits for transgender individuals, there are a number of things union members can and should do to keep the pressure on, including: giving union members an opportunity to self-identify as LGBT and as partnered on the pre-bargaining survey; incorporating marriage recognition and transgender benefits in the list of goals on that survey or at membership meetings; passing a resolution in support of transgender benefits and marriage recognition benefits; using their LGBT issues committee to educate members about the need for and low cost of these benefits; using the policy and cost experience of other unions to persuade management; including at least one LGBT member on the negotiating committee who can testify to the need for these benefits and help advocate with management; and finally, with regards to transgender benefits, publicizing the American Medical Association resolution, the IRS ruling and San Francisco’s cost experience to further the arguments that transgender health benefits are necessary, tax deductible and low cost to the employer.

Connections were made with various members and staffers, who have already reached out about additional presentations for their particular worksites. We may have an opportunity to educate members of this local who work in city prisons and the juvenile justice system.

I look forward to good work with this local on issues affecting economic and social justice for LGBT Union members and the broader community.

If you would like to have a Pride in Our Union speaker at your union meeting, please contact me at 518-472-3330 x 303 or

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NYS Legislature passes Dignity for All Students Act

Great news! Last night, the State Senate passed the Dignity for All Students Act in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 58-3. The only "no" votes Republican Senators John DeFrancisco (SD 50), George Maziarz (SD 62) and Dale Volker (SD 59). Click here to read our statement on the bill passing.

This historic vote follows the passage of Dignity earlier this year by the Assembly. It now moves to Governor Paterson, who we urge to sign this bill into law.

Yesterday's vote in the State Senate marks a significant victory after years of fighting to protect students from bullying and harassment in schools. The Dignity bill creates tools for school administrators, teachers, parents and students to address bullying and bias-related behavior of all kinds that interfere with student safety and learning. Key provisions include: developing rules to prevent and respond to discriminatory harassment and hate violence; establishing teacher, staff and administrative training guidelines; incorporating discrimination awareness into civility and character education curricula; and required reporting of incidents of bias harassment to the State Education Department.

In addition to sexual orientation and other categories such as race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, weight, and disability, Dignity offers protections based on gender identity and expression. This marks the first time that protections based on gender identity and expression would be included in state law.

This victory could never have happened without the countless meetings so many of our supporters held with their legislators or the thousands of phone calls, emails and letters so many of you placed and sent over the past several years.

The State Senate acted today on behalf of the LGBT community and all New Yorkers who believe in equality for everyone. Perseverance won out. You raised your voices, you never gave up, and Albany listened.

So stay with us, because today’s victory on Dignity is just the beginning. If we all stick together and keep working, our community will be celebrating more legislative victories in the very near future and the greater achievement of equality and justice in New York State.

TAKE PRIDE in today’s victory!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Equality@Work Awards honors supportive workplaces

On June 16, 2010, the Empire State Pride Agenda held its seventh annual Equality@Work Awards, where we honored companies and individuals who are working to create an inclusive work environment that respects, welcomes and supports LGBT professionals and empowers them to reach their potential. This year, we were honored to recognize JPMorgan Chase, KPMG and Lisa Linsky of McDermott Will & Emery.

From left to right: Joe Evangelisti, Head of Corporate Communications & Media Relations, accepting the award on behalf of JPMorgan Chase; Lisa Linsky, Partner and the Partner-in-Charge of Firmwide Diversity, McDermott Will & Emry, Robert P. Garrett, New York Office Managing Partner, accepting the award on behalf of KPMG; and Ross Levi, Pride Agenda Executive Director.

For more information about the guide and the Pride Agenda’s Pride in My Workplace program, contact Bradford Menoche at 212-627-0305 or

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pride in the Pulpit Faith Leaders of Color: Creating a Safe and Welcoming Religious Space for All People

On Saturday, May 22nd the Pride in the Pulpit Faith Leaders of Color Committee hosted their first forum: Creating a Safe and Welcoming Religious Space for All People. Over 50 people who are committed to addressing the experiences of exclusion towards LGBT people of color in faith communities attended the forum. The focus of the day was to provide information as well as to develop skills and strategies that attendees can take back to their faith communities. The forum began with a panel discussion and was followed by action-oriented workshops. Both the panel discussion and the workshops addressed four major topics:

1. Sacred Scriptures: How are sacred scriptures/texts used to support and condone discrimination, harassment/abuse and condemnation of queer people?

2. What is the role of religious institutions in promoting love and care for all people?

3. How can we celebrate diversity and pluralism with our LGBT community?

4. How can faith-based institutions speak to and address the need of LGBT youth and young adults?

Panelists included Rev. Jackie Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church; Nila Marrone, coordinator of PFLAG Families of Color; Rev. Boon Lin Ngeo, staff pastor for MCC New York and co-founder of Good Samaritan MCC in Malaysia; and Rev. Steve Parelli, Executive Director of Other Sheep. Workshop facilitators included Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D., Coordinator of Queer Asian Sprit; Oliver W. Martin III, President of the Board of Directors for The United Church of Christ HIV/AIDS Network; and Rev. Melvin John P. Miller, Associate Minister, Fort Washington Collegiate Church.

Here are some photos from the event:

Changing hearts and minds takes work, and it happens with one conversation at a time. The Creating a Safe and Welcoming Religious Space for All People forum empowered attendees to get the conversation going in their own communities. Want to join in the conversation? For more information on Pride in the Pulpit or the Faith Leaders of Color Committee, contact Pride in the Pulpit Coordinator Kate McDonough at 212-627-0305 ext. 106 or

National League of Women Voters comes out in support of marriage

A message from Sheilah Sable, Pride Agenda Upstate Director of Pride in Action:

The National League of Women Voters’ national convention has just passed a resolution in support of marriage equality.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that has fought since 1920 to improve systems of government and impact public policies through citizen education and advocacy. It is a grassroots organization, working at the national, state and local levels.

The newly passed resolution reads: “The League of Women Voters of the United States supports equal rights for all under state and federal law. LWVUS supports legislation to equalize the legal rights, obligations, and benefits available to same-gender couples with those available to heterosexual couples. LWVUS supports legislation to permit same-gender couples to marry under civil law. The League believes that the civil status of marriage is already clearly distinguished from the religious institution of marriage and that religious rights will be preserved."

The motion was brought to the floor of the National Convention by the League of Women Voters Chapter of Saratoga, New York. In October of 2009, the LOWV Saratoga New York Chapter contacted now-Executive Director, Ross Levi, (then Director of Public Policy and Education), about presenting to the Chapter on issues related to LGBT equality and justice, and specifically marriage equality. As a result of that contact, I visited with the Saratoga Chapter last fall to do a presentation to 50 members on marriage equality for New York State. I was accompanied by Kathy Manley of the Albany NYCLU Chapter who talked about marriage recognition in New York State. Kathy and I went on to highlight some of the most crucial and compelling reasons why this law is so important for so many LGBT New Yorkers and their families.

The individuals in the room were genuinely moved to action. One member commented that they had originally wanted a debate about the related issues, but that they were unable to find anyone to argue against marriage equality that did not come from a conservative Christian perspective. That was not an option for the group. We walked away with invitations to return at a later date to discuss GENDA, as well as numerous supporters who have since volunteered with phone banking and other activities related to the campaign for LGBT equality and justice.

Now, this nurtured relationship has had a national impact. It seems a great example of how hard it is to predetermine what the impact will be of something as simple as a conversation among neighbors, and has reminded me of the importance of community education. I hope it inspires others about the ripple-effect of simply telling the stories of our lives and inviting others to join us in the struggle for equality and justice.

For information on how to bring a Pride Agenda speaker to your event or organization, click here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Engaging Straight Allies in the Workplace

From left to right: Panelists Darice Henritze, Heidi Tickle, Mary Ellen Connerty, and moderator Marla Hassner.

A message from Pride in My Workplace Coordinator Bradford Menoche:

Last Wednesday, the Pride in My Workplace program, in partnership with KPMG, successfully hosted another event in our Business Leaders for LGBT Equality Series entitled: “Engaging Straight Allies: How Can I Champion LGBT Diversity and Inclusion?” Over 100 people from over 40 different firms and companies attended this event which combined a panel discussion with networking opportunities.

On the panel were four women who each exemplify success in their fields: Mary Ellen Connerty, Partner and Global Diversity Leader at Mercer; Darice Henritze, Partner at KPMG; Heidi Tickle, Director and Chief Operating Officer to Americas Compliance at Credit Suisse Securities, LLC; and moderator Marla Hassner, who is both a Pride Agenda Board Member and a committee member of the Pride in My Workplace program.

Each panelist described different specific initiatives in their company for engaging and publicizing supportive allies, but some common themes raised included:

  1. It is crucial to have visible straight allies, especially those in senior management positions. This provides the entire firm/company the opportunity to see that it is OK to be a straight ally.

  2. Sometimes all it takes for those in leadership to get involved is for a respected LGBT employee to ask a senior manager to become a straight ally.

  3. It is important to recognize that there will be awkward moments for straight allies and providing them a supportive environment where issues related to “coming out” as a straight ally can be discussed openly and professionally is essential.

  4. It is important that straight allies publicly acknowledge their support of their LGBT colleagues. Some simple ways include network giveaways like pens, stickers, and paperweights that say Straight Ally.

Having straight allies is necessary to provide a supportive environment where LGBT employees and their contributions in the workplace are acknowledged, accepted, and encouraged. Have you asked someone to be an ally today?

This event is an example of the leadership position that KPMG has taken on LGBT issues in the workplace. In fact, independent of this event, the Pride Agenda is honoring KPMG with an award at our annual Equality@Work awards on June 16.

For more information or to help your company get involved in the Pride in My Workplace program, please contact Bradford Menoche, Pride in My Workplace Coordinator at (212) 627-0305 or

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A message from Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi

The Pride Agenda is proud to share this message from our new Executive Director, Ross D. Levi:

I am honored, humbled and excited to begin leading the Pride Agenda team as its Executive Director. The LGBT community is at such a pivotal moment here in New York State. We have achieved recent victories that range from banning transgender discrimination in state employment, to being able to make medical decisions for incapacitated domestic partners, to having out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples recognized by NYS government to expanding access to millions of dollars of public funding for LGBT health and human services. At the same time, we are on the brink of achieving equality under the law through vital measures like the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), the Dignity for All Students Act and marriage equality legislation.

As important as our work to achieve legislative and governmental victories is, equally important is our work to galvanize a statewide movement for equality and justice. We know that equality, in many ways, is only the beginning of our journey. The Pride Agenda is also committed to justice for LGBT people—and furthermore, a more just New York State for all. Even after our legislative victories are won and secured, we must all continue to do the work to make sure those laws are fully realized, to change hearts and minds, and to make sure that all LGBT New Yorkers are able to live free, fulfilling lives, in which we are able to fairly compete in our workplaces, walk safely on our streets and care for ourselves and our families.

I see the Pride Agenda’s job as providing opportunities for ALL New Yorkers to join the efforts to achieve LGBT equality and justice statewide on issues that matter to them. And I firmly believe that we will win when we work together as a united community: from upstate to downstate; across differences of race, class, age, sex and gender; in the streets, on the web and in the halls of the Capitol. I know that if everyone commits to doing something, we cannot fail. Whether becoming an educated and active voter, calling and meeting with our elected officials, organizing in our workplaces, union halls, schools and places of worship, rallying in public or, yes, supporting organizations like the Pride Agenda with donations of time or funds, the only wrong move is to do nothing.

The Pride Agenda stands ready and committed to march with you shoulder to shoulder until victory is achieved.

Onward to justice!

Ross Levi

(In his first action as incoming Executive Director, Ross also recently spoke at the Pride Agenda’s Spring Dinner in Rochester. You can click here to watch the video.)