Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the Senate outcome means

Post by Ross D. Levi, Executive Director, Empire State Pride Agenda

It’s becoming clear that there is going to be a change in leadership in the New York State Senate to the Republican Party. Some have speculated that this means an end to progress we will be able to make on LGBT issues here in New York, but I couldn’t disagree more.

We know that as a result of this election we start two votes ahead on marriage equality from where we were before, and have additional support on other issues like the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and adequate funding for LGBT health and human services. Even more significant is the way this progress was achieved: In a state where incumbents win 98% of the time, we unseated two decades-long anti-LGBT incumbents – one Democrat and one Republican. Senators new and old will now be asking themselves whether they want the strength of our community used against them in the same way two short years from now if they vote against equality for their LGBT constituents.

Also, let’s not forget that the Pride Agenda and the LGBT community have achieved great things with both parties. Two of our most significant legislative victories – the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act and hate crimes legislation – were passed with a Republican senate and a Republican governor. The environment for passing marriage and GENDA is even better than it was then.

We have a strong governor who was outspoken on our issues from day one of his campaign, and he will be joined by other statewide officials who were equally outspoken in favor of our issues. Contrast that to how things went for Carl Paladino. Legislators with ambitions for higher office have to realize that for the past two election cycles, no one has won any statewide office in New York without being expressly pro-LGBT. Maybe that’s because the public is on our side, with 58% of New Yorkers saying they favor marriage equality for same-sex couples and upwards of 70% believing New York should have a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.

Our community is coming out of this election cycle strong. We know we have a clear and credible opportunity for victory in 2011, but we also know we have a challenging session ahead of us. The economy and state budget are likely to loom large in Albany for the months to come, so we need to do the hard work of making sure our elected officials understand the importance of our issues, and ensuring that the next time our bills come up for a vote that they succeed.

  • We need to highlight business leaders who will remind legislators that New York’s economy misses out on approximately $184 million that flows instead to neighboring states where marriage is permitted for same sex couples.
  • We will raise up high profile faith leaders in support of marriage equality like Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, and add to their numbers.
  • We will encourage our friends in law enforcement, the women’s movement and the business community to counteract the myths around basic civil rights protections for transgender people and remind elected officials that our state is falling behind the private sector in banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
  • We will continue to remind our government officials of the state’s critical role in meeting the health and human service needs of New York’s LGBT community through policies, programs and resources.
  • We will mobilize and add to our 2.5 million New York brothers and sisters in unions that support marriage equality and GENDA.
  • We will make sure our representatives in Albany hear in person from their constituents by the hundreds, both at home in their districts and in Albany at our Equality & Justice Day in early May.

Won’t you be part of the important work we have to do in 2011? Victory is ours for the taking, but it will not be possible without you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Industry leaders take on “same-sex couples tax”

Posted by Bradford Menoche, Pride in My Workplace Coordinator

Many companies offer domestic partner benefits for their LGBT employees as a way to extend benefits more fairly to all their employees. However, the federal government imposes a tax on the value of the benefits the domestic partner receives, unlike married heterosexual couples, who receive an exemption from this tax. The tax is added to the employee’s paycheck by adding the cost of the benefits package to the employee’s paycheck as imputed income. Imputed tax is the amount that is due on the additional imputed income. The tax averages over $1000 a year, but can quickly rise depending on the cost of the benefits package. The cost is typically the combined amount that the employee contributes, plus what the employer contributes for the coverage.

This is an example of how the federal government’s rejection of same-sex marriage directly impacts our everyday lives. However, some companies have stepped forward to put an end this inequality for their gay and lesbian employees. Google made a big splash in June when they announced that they would start reimbursing their gay and lesbian employees for the so called “gay tax”. While they may not have been the first company to do this, their high profile definitely brought a lot of attention to the issue.

Now, just 6 months later, the list of companies offering the “true up” or “gross up” benefit is growing. Although the list is still relatively small, it contains several industry leaders and the list is growing each day. The Pride Agenda and HRC recently sent out a press release in support of Barclays, a major financial industry leader, who recently announced their policy change because when an industry leader makes a big change like this, there is often a domino effect. Barclays, like others, knows that being a leader on LGBT Workplace issues can create a competitive advantage for top talent, which is a goal for every company.

The current list of companies offering this benefit includes: Cisco, Kimpton Hotels, Morrison and Foerster, Bain and Co., Boston Consulting, Gates Foundation, Facebook, as well as Barclays.

Breaking News: McDermott, Will & Emery announced yesterday that they will also be reimbursing their Gay and Lesbian employees for imputed taxes. The Pride in My Workplace Program recently gave an Equality@Work award to Lisa Linsky, who is, among other things, the Partner-In-Charge of Firm-wide Diversity at McDermott.

We will be covering this topic at a Business Leaders Series event next year. This is the kind of “best practice” that the Pride in My Workplace Program promotes through its Best Practices Guide, Lunch and Learn events and educational panels. Please email me (bmenoche AT prideagenda DOT org) if you would like to get on the Pride in My Workplace distribution list or if there is a way that the Pride Agenda can partner with your organization to support you with the changes you want to make at your workplace.

Tara Siegel Bernard, who contributes to the New York Times Bucks blog also featured this exciting new trend. Check out her post: Facebook to Reimburse Gay Workers for Benefit Tax.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hope for 2011

As you probably heard last week, a generous couple, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Freedom to Marry Political Director Sean Eldridge, have put forth a challenge to our supporters around our work for marriage equality. They have pledged to match every gift made to the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation now through the end of the year up to $50,000. That means that every dollar that our supporters donate will go twice as far. I am so honored that Chris and Sean have shown their confidence in the Pride Agenda with this amazing donation. Will you join them and be part of our efforts to win marriage equality in New York?

The funds raised through this extraordinary effort can make the difference in the hard work that lies ahead in 2011. We know the best way to build support for marriage equality is through engaging our community and our allies -- nurturing welcoming communities of faith, celebrating LGBT members of unions, and helping workplaces affirm and support LGBT employees. These efforts build a solid base of supporters who will stand by our side when the going gets rough.

The work in the coming year won't be easy -- our fights never are -- but by pledging your support and meeting the challenge set by Chris and Sean, we will have the tools to build support among our staunchest allies, face obstacles head on and win!

  • Through our Pride in My Workplace program, we are working with businesses and trade groups around the state to demonstrate that during these difficult economic times, marriage equality is good for New York and good for business, from helping employers attract great talent to our state to serving as a multi-million dollar economic development tool for a myriad of industries like hospitality and tourism.
  • As the result of our Pride in the Pulpit program, leaders of faith have been among our strongest allies in recent years, with over 500 signing a letter in support of marriage for same-sex couples. These faith leaders are now working to ensure that all of their colleagues, including high-profile clergy across the state, will speak out on our behalf.
  • In our Pride in Our Union program, we continue to broaden our reach to rank and file union members across the state who strongly support access to marriage for their LGBT union brothers and sisters. Already, unions representing over 2.5 million working New Yorkers have passed resolutions in support of marriage equality.

I have been inspired by the outpouring of leadership from these communities and many others, and their dedication to our work. The voices of all New Yorkers, LGBT and allies alike, are crucial to growing the consensus about why marriage equality matters. The Empire State Pride Agenda has a 20 year record of delivering concrete results for New York State's LGBT community. Be part of our next victories by helping us today!

Don't forget -- every dollar you donate today goes twice as far. Help fuel the fight for marriage equality across our great state -- from Buffalo to Montauk, from Poughkeepsie to Potsdam. Every New Yorker deserves equality!

Onwards to Justice!

Ross D. LeviExecutive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

PS: Our allies are so important in our fight. If you are inspired to give today, please consider passing this message on to friends and family to stand by our side. We need all of their support!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Join us - A message from Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge

As the end of the year nears, organizations like the Empire State Pride Agenda take stock of the support they've received in order to plan for the year ahead. And here in New York, there is a lot of work ahead in 2011.

With a pro-marriage equality Governor and majority public support, we have an opportunity to secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in New York. But it won't be easy.

To implement the field, lobbying, and communications strategy needed to win, the Pride Agenda needs our support.

That's why we're committing to match every tax-deductible donation made to the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation between now and the end of the year, up to $50,000. Will you join us and make a donation of $25 or more today?

By giving today, your donation will be doubled -- your gift of $25 will immediately become a $50 contribution, your gift of $50 will immediately become a $100 contribution -- to fuel the campaign to win marriage equality in New York.

We met in 2005 while living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Though we were young, we knew that we had found something special. Over the following years, work and school took us through numerous states, but we're now proud New Yorkers.

And like so many same-sex couples living in New York, we dream of the day when we'll share in the freedom to marry the person that we love. We hope to raise children and build a family in New York, but we know how difficult that will be without the rights and protections that come only with marriage.

Marriage matters. Whether it's the critical safety net of rights, protections, and responsibilities or the simple desire to celebrate love and commitment with friends and family, marriage touches every aspect of life. And the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is one of the harshest inequalities still inflicted on LGBT New Yorkers.

It's time for New York to join the five states and District of Columbia that have already ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and made families safer, while hurting no one. And the Pride Agenda is the only state organization capable of doing the work that's needed to end marriage discrimination in New York.

We're matching contributions because we know that victory will only come when all New Yorkers who believe in fairness and equality contribute their time, their resources, and their voices to this important cause. We hope you'll join us in supporting the Pride Agenda at this critical moment. Every dollar contributed will go to work immediately and fuel the fight to secure the freedom to marry for all loving and committed New Yorkers.

Will you join us in helping the Pride Agenda in this critical fight here in New York?

Thank you,

Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge
Co-Founder, Facebook, and Founder, Jumo; Political Director, Freedom to Marry