Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rising to the Challenge

Post by Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross D. Levi

Throughout the history of the Empire State Pride Agenda, we have been called to do great things. We have achieved more than 70 governmental victories by building support and educating both our community and allies. From our early days fighting for legislation that mentions "lesbian" or "gay" to our recent efforts to ensure that in New York all loving, committed couples have the ability to marry, we have worked across this great state, having conversations with thousands of people to help them understand the issues facing our community and building support for our equality and justice.

We have seen the amazing results of these efforts: with our allies and community's advocacy, we can create a better New York for all LGBT people and our families.

The Pride Agenda is excited to announce that one of our longtime funders will match every gift made to the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000 through the end of December.

Our generous donor applauds the great work we have achieved for LGBT New Yorkers, but also recognizes that our community cannot claim equality for all when there are people in our state who live without equal rights. Our anonymous donor is asking you to join them in continuing the extraordinary process of bettering the lives of LGBT New Yorkers.

Our work ahead to achieve equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers is varied and far-reaching. We must defend our marriage victory and ensure the successful implementation of both the Marriage Equality Act and the Dignity for All Students Act. We must continue to advance transgender civil rights. We must advocate for and improve access to health and human services for LGBT people across the state and protect the most vulnerable members of our community, including LGBT homeless youth and our seniors.

We are so close to achieving our great vision of equality under the law in New York, and our success in the state will continue to have a significant impact on furthering LGBT work across the nation. With a 20 year history of fighting for New York's LGBT community, and with supporters like you on our side, we will use our experience and lessons learned from the marriage campaign to confront other barriers to equality facing LGBT people and their families.

We must take full advantage of the momentum from the marriage victory to take on other issues facing New York's LGBT community. Your support today will help us capitalize on this great opportunity and bring all members of our community closer to full equality.

Thank you for your continued support and leadership.

Onwards to Justice!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Message from our Pride in the Pulpit Coordinator

Post by Lead Organizer Kate McDonough, coordinator of Pride in the Pulpit

I still struggle with Hebrew. Although I’ve been to a number of Shabbat services, I find myself tripping over every other word. Hebrew was something that we just did not cover in my Lutheran Sunday school. Last month, I had the pleasure of participating at the Nehirim Queer Shabbaton, a conference dedicated to LGBT Jewish spirituality and culture. As lunch ended one of the rabbis at the conference announced that we’d be singing a nigun, which excited me because I know some nigunim and hoped I could sing along. However, shortly after the song began, I realized this is a nigun I did not know and prepared to struggle with the words—then we hit the melody. The tune for the song was the same as "Lord Prepare me to be a Sanctuary," a song that I grew up singing—making the unfamiliar familiar.

The beauty of interfaith work is discovering commonality in the face of diversity. Likewise, the beauty of movement work is realizing that although we may use different words to describe the problems we see, we are in fact singing the same tune. For example, when a young boy is bullied at school for “acting like a girl,” one person will label it homophobia because gay men are perceived to be effeminate, another will say that it is transphobia because he is being attacked for his gender expression while a third will claim it has to do with gender norms and a narrow view of what it means to be male. Who’s right? I would say all of them. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity and expression, but homophobia and transphobia can be very much intertwined. Furthermore, a narrow prescription for gender roles can have harmful effects for the LGBT community as well as our overall society.

In recognizing that we sway to the same melody, we have an opportunity to overcome perceived difference and address intersecting oppression as a unified movement. Here lies our strength, for the walls of oppression will surely fall if we break them down from all sides. Our words can be different, but we can sing as one when our tune is the same.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Organized Labor Deepens Support for Transgender Equality and Justice at Annual Conference

Post by Director of Upstate Organizing, Sheilah Sable, who also serves as the statewide coordinator of the Pride Agenda’s Pride in Our Union program.

On Saturday, November 19, forty members of the Pride in Our Union New York City Committee gathered at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for the annual Pride and Solidarity in Action Conference.

As usual, we accomplished a lot. The afternoon kicked off with my welcoming remarks, reminding attendees of the important and powerful work that was done last spring by labor partners to help pass the Marriage Equality Act. We talked about the Pride Agenda’s upcoming work and how labor can once again bring numbers and voices in support of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and improving the quality of life for New York’s LGBT laborers and our families in the areas of health care, access to benefits, accurate documents and safety.

For the opening panel, we were joined by Kevin Finnegan, the Political Director of 1199 SEIU and Denise Berkley, the Statewide Secretary of CSEA. These two unions combined represent over a million members. Denise and Kevin spoke eloquently about their own journeys around LGBT issues, how their unions supported marriage equality and how we can work together to pass GENDA. In honor of the work done by both unions, the Pride in Our Union committee presented Denise and Kevin with framed marriage equality placards as a token of thanks for their support and hard work. The placards were the same as those used by tens of thousands of activists during rallies and events in the years and days leading up to the passage of marriage.

The rest of the conference was chock full of great information on how to work with your union to maintain domestic partner benefits, tools you can use to determine which healthcare plans cover transgender needs (and which don’t), how to negotiate those benefits into the contract and how to be an ally for LGBT issues. Legal experts joined us to answer legal questions pertaining to LGBT issues. Sally Otos, a New York City attorney spoke to us about issues that arise as a result of marriage being legal in New York and only five other states, but not on the federal level due to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Noah Lewis, from the Transgender Legal Education and Defense Fund talked to the group about specific legal issues that affect transgender people and shared with us a credit card-sized document that transgender people can carry in their wallets to identify them as transgender if they encounter transphobic members of the police department or others who harass them in various public accommodation settings.

We enjoyed a meal together, took the opportunity to talk about the upcoming election work on behalf of the legislators who stood with us during the marriage vote and who commit to standing with us on GENDA; our campaign work around transgender equality and justice; in-district meetings and community ambassador trainings; building the volume of New Yorkers contacting their elected officials; and, recruitment for Equality & Justice Day, May 8, 2012.

This was a great conference, and Pride in Our Union is a vitally important program that supports our work for transgender equality and justice. If you are interested in Pride in Our Union or being involved in our other work, please contact me at (518) 649-8135 or send me an email at ssable AT prideagenda DOT org.

(Kevin Finnegan, SEIU 1199 and Denise Berkley, AFSCME CSEA Local 100); (Noah Lewis, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and Sally Otos, NYC Attorney); (Kelly Canzoneri, DC 37, Local 1503; Jeff Oshins, DC 37, Local 375; Denise Berkley, CSEA Local 100; Gail Harris, DC 37, Local 375)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance around New York State

Over the last several days, Pride Agenda staff have participated in Transgender Day of Remembrance gatherings across the state. Captured below are their collective reporting and musings about the events, all of which have helped to strengthen the Pride Agenda’s commitment to transgender equality and justice and the critical work that lies ahead.


On Monday evening, November 21, Spectrum Transgender Group of Western New York in Buffalo held a Transgender Day of Remembrance event at Buffalo United Artists Theater. A diverse crowd of transgender and allied Buffalonians gathered to remember those who were victims of transphobic violence, discuss the need for transgender protections and honor allies who have stood up for transgender equality. The event was both moving and educational. At the end of the memorial, organizers had attendees break into groups to participate in role-plays about some of the challenges faced by transgender New Yorkers. (Alden)

Capital District

People from all over the Capital District came together on Friday evening to celebrate and mourn the lives of transgender people who were killed in the past year. We had a panel of wonderful speakers including Police Chief Krokoff, who assured the audience that his department was committed to protecting the safety of the transgender community. Speakers shared their diverse experiences with being transgender; all had the same message of resilience in the face of great hardships. Reverend Sam Trumbore of First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany spoke about the courage of transgender individuals to live their lives with authenticity.

Having moved to Albany eight months ago, this was the first time I felt I really belong to a community here, more so than I have in many other places I have lived for years. As the seventy-five attendees gathered in a circle for the candlelight vigil, I could sense the shared warmth and support that filled the room. Each name read aloud was accompanied by a description of the person’s life or personality. One woman owned a beauty salon, another was earning a GED to go to nursing school, another helped form a transgender activism organization, another worked making piƱatas to support herself and her mother and so on…

In the closing, I reminded the crowd that while we are sad, we must not be dismayed. We can see around us that progress is happening and we all have a great opportunity to participate. We must make New York State a place where transgender people are treated with dignity, have equal opportunity to have a job, provide for their families, go to school and or simply go shopping without getting harassed. (Christopher) Photo credit: Cindy Schultz


Last night, on November 20, I attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Kingston. There were about 30 of us in the room and as with many of these events, it was a profound combination of a somber mood and an acknowledgement of resilience, strength and a commitment to work to end the ignorance and hate that perpetuates crimes against transgender people. Members of the Mid-Hudson Valley Transgender Association read names and acknowledged lives of transgender people who have been murdered as a result of transphobic hate crimes around the globe. After the ceremony, members of the audience were asked to share their successes and challenges in living in a state that doesn’t value its transgender and gender non-conforming citizens.

Members of PFLAG and parents of transgender children pledged to work with the Pride Agenda to ensure passage of GENDA in New York State. (Sheilah)

Nassau County

Over 100 members of the Long Island LGBT community came together for the 8th annual Long Island Transgender Day of Remembrance service and reception. The evening was organized by the LI-TDOR Committee and was hosted by Temple Sinai of Bay Shore. The community came together in peace and solidarity in order to remember those transgender people lost to us this year. The memory of those who were murdered was honored by the singing of songs, the sharing of stories, the lighting of candles and the recitations of the names of those no longer with us. (Joanna)

New York City

At the Center - I attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance event at the LGBT Center in Manhattan. The evening was a memorial to the more than 200 transgender people who lost their lives in the past year because of violence caused by transphobia. The program began with brief introductions by Cristina, a lead counselor for the Gender Identity Project (GIP), and Glennda Testone, Executive Director of the LGBT Center. The GIP provides an opportunity for trans-identified individuals to interact with other people who are trans-identified and allied service providers, who are both powerful role models and supportive agents in the process of normalizing a person’s trans-identity.

After a candlelight vigil down West 14th Street, transgender community members shared their personal stories and remembered the friends and family lost. (Bryan)

At Housing Works - It was very meaningful for me to attend Housing Works’ Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s important to acknowledge those who’ve been taken away from us due to transphobic violence, but it’s never an easy thing to do. At one point during the service a video was screened which showed the pictures of those killed because of their gender identity or expression. I saw the faces of people who were as young as 15 years old. However, among the sorrow and loss, there was a profound sense of hope and a determination to advocate for equality and justice. Lynn Walker, the director of housing operations at Housing Works, spoke of the importance to fight for transgender civil rights legislation, stating: “we have power and we need to bug our senators--it’s time to get involved” Others spoke of the importance of walking the path that past transgender civil rights advocates have paved for us so that the next generation can go even further. Lastly, the day was full of wonderful performances, ranging from the East New York Choir to one of the best drag performances I’ve ever seen. We cannot ignore the tragic reality that the transgender community is frequently a target of violent attacks. In addition, we cannot let this sorrow drive us to complacency--things will only get better if we join together and work to make them better. (Kate)


In Palmyra this past Sunday, November 20, there was a Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial service at the Zion Episcopal Church. Shauna Marie O’Toole hosted a church service filled with hymns and prayers honoring the victims of transphobic violence and discrimination. Reverend Susan Kohlmeier gave a sermon sharing her personal experience with the transgender community and called on us all to be welcoming. The event was an opportunity for community members to come together and remember those we have lost because of transphobic violence. (Jonathan)


In commemoration of Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Rochester Transgender Equality & Justice Coalition hosted a Celebration of Life and Rally at the Auditorium Center. The event attracted a diverse crowd of over 20 members of the community to honor those individuals who have faced transphobic violence and address the need for a transgender non-discrimination law in New York.

The event was led by Pride Agenda staff, who spoke about the need for a statewide transgender non-discrimination law. Speakers included KaeLyn Rich, Chapter Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, Kelly Clark, Community Safety Director from the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley and Pamela Barres, a member of the Pride Agenda’s Board of Directors. Every speaker shared their perspective on transphobia and the need for New York to finally pass a statewide transgender rights law. (Alden)

Staten Island

The evening began with the reading of the names of the dead and an inspiring song. This was followed by a panel, led by Ms. Ron B, that included Taniyah, Sarina, Haylie and Aiden—four transwomen of color and the transman who facilitates the support group “TRANSistors.” They told powerful stories of surviving assault, self-doubt and thoughts of suicide, rape and family rejection. But they have found strength inside, from friends, from family and from the Staten Island LGBT Community Center. Now they are all in school, employed and pursuing their dreams. All 50 of the attendees, ranging in age from teens to elders, were moved by their stories and signed postcards in support of GENDA. (Desma)

Suffolk County

In observance of the National Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Interweave Group of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stony Brook held a service in memory of those transgender individuals who were murdered over the past year. The service included a recitation of the names of those lost to us. Candles were lit for each of the 20 names that were read. The service was followed by a panel discussion that addressed the need for protections for transgender New Yorkers, including legislation that protects them from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. (Joanna)

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an important and historical day in LGBT history and the fight for equality and justice for all members of our community. The Pride Agenda staff were proud to be among allies and activists who organized these events so that we would have the opportunity to acknowledge our losses and come together and recommit to the work ahead. For more information about the Pride Agenda’s Transgender Equality and Justice work, please contact our Transgender Rights Organizer, Christopher Argyros at cargyros AT prideagenda DOT org or (518) 649-8140.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Leaders in LGBT Health Gather in Albany

Post by Kimberly Eisen, coordinator of the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network

This week, the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network (the Network) held its 2011 Network Annual Meeting and Retreat. The Network is a statewide coalition of over 55 LGBT-specific and LGBT-supportive non-profit groups and organizations that serve the non-HIV/AIDS-related health and human services of LGBT New Yorkers.[link to membership page on the website] Network members know from experience and thorough research that LGBT New Yorkers face unacceptable health disparities when compared with rest of the population, and are committed to closing these gaps.

The Pride Agenda, as the coordinator of the Network, hosted the retreat in Albany at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.

With over 35 organizations represented at the yearly planning meeting, the Network focused on reaffirming its mission of ensuring and enhancing the ability to provide needed services to LGBT communities. The work of the Network in the upcoming year will focus on increasing and maintaining public funding for LGBT health and human services, strengthening communications and collaborations among member agencies and improving the sustainability of member agencies in communities across New York State, as well as improving the vitality of the coalition.

As a group, the Network conducts its primary work in five areas – Funding Advocacy, Capacity Building and Technical Assistance, Networking and Peer Support, Membership and Cultural Competency. Each member agency participates in the creation of a work plan that reflects these priorities and addresses the health and human services needs of LGBT communities throughout New York State. Additionally, member organizations participate in issue- and population-based committees. New York State LGBT Health Month, which is held each year in March, is an example of the work that is being done in those committees.

We also had some fun! We were treated to a duet of “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart,” some lunch time trivia and an impromptu gathering in the hotel restaurant to watch “Dancing with the Stars.”

It’s not often that non-profit professionals have the opportunity to network in person and discuss the challenges and successes of their work. The Network Annual Meeting and Retreat has proven to be an important opportunity for statewide colleagues to work together in person on statewide collaborative initiatives.

In the end it comes down to everyday people. The service providers in the Network collectively and individually find ways to make sure all people receive the type of care they need, including LGBT people. Have you ever faced a barrier to good health because of who you are?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Celebrating a huge success in Albany!

More than 100 supporters joined us on Thursday, September 22 for An Albany Celebration, a cocktail party benefiting the Empire State Pride Agenda. The event was generously hosted by Albany restaurateur, blogger, activist and philanthropist Matt Baumgartner at his beautiful North Albany loft. Supporters from across the Capital Region joined in the celebration, and included elected officials, union and community leaders, people of faith, business owners, activists and past and present members of the Pride Agenda Board of Directors.

There was clearly a lot to celebrate at the event, including this summer’s passage of the marriage equality law and the commencement of weddings, as well as the 20th Anniversary of the Empire State Pride Agenda. Libby Post, long-time Albany activist and founding Co-Chair of the Pride Agenda Board of Directors, welcomed guests to the event and introduced Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi. Ross spoke of how important the community in the Capital region is to the work of the Pride Agenda and thanked guests for supporting our work for two decades. He also shared a vision of the organization’s work in a post-marriage New York.

Thank you for helping to make this event a great success! For more information about getting involved in future special events in the Capital Region, please contact Roger Calderon at rcalderon AT

Monday, September 19, 2011

Volunteers Celebrate Successful Marriage Work in Buffalo

Post by Western New York Organizer Alden Bashaw

Last week volunteers from the Pride Agenda, Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality New York, OutSpoken for Equality and the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York got together to celebrate the successful campaign for marriage in the Queen City at Allen Street Hardware in Buffalo. The tireless work of volunteers in Buffalo, New York State’s second largest city, helped deliver two critical votes for the Marriage Equality Act in the state senate this year: Senator Mark Grisanti and Senator Tim Kennedy. About 30 volunteers gathered to celebrate the hard work on the marriage campaign.

Over great food and a few drinks, activists reminisced about the marriage campaign and talked about the work ahead to ensure equality and justice for transgender New Yorkers. Buffalo should be famous for more than just hot wings. The fervor for justice I’ve seen from Buffalonians is about as hot as it gets! It can be expected that the diehard volunteers from Buffalo will again play a critical role in the campaign for transgender equality and justice over the coming year. I look forward to continuing to work in the vibrant and unique community of Buffalo as we continue to build partnerships and allies in our fight for LGBT equality and justice.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rochester Activists Gather to Celebrate Successful Work on Marriage Campaign

Post by Western New York Organizer Alden Bashaw

Last night Rochester area activists gathered with Director of Upstate Organizing Sheilah Sable and me, along with our local community partners - Equality Rochester, Pride At Work, Marriage Equality New York and Human Rights Campaign - to celebrate the hard work that our community put into this year’s successful marriage campaign. The work of all our organizations and our steadfast volunteers was critical to Sen. James Alesi becoming the first Republican in the Senate to come out publically in support of marriage for all loving couples in New York State. About 40 dedicated volunteers joined us at Shea’s Restaurant in Rochester, with entertainment for the evening provided by Deb Mangione.

Volunteers are the backbone of all of our organizations. They help all of us to achieve the many victories that we have under our belts, and at times when we get discouraged their tenacity reminds us of why we do the work we do. Fittingly, one of the couples who volunteered on the marriage campaign actually booked the restaurant where we held the event last night for their wedding rehearsal dinner in October. The Pride Agenda, Equality-Roc, Pride at Work, MENY and HRC have been privileged and lucky to share and work with so many talented and dedicated volunteers in Rochester. I personally look forward to continuing to work with all of our volunteers as we push forward on winning full equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families.

There was much talk last night of the broad and cohesive coalition that was built in the Rochester region through the marriage campaign. While everyone took the time to celebrate by enjoying some fabulous food (I’m going to have to run a few extra miles this week after all of those chicken and waffle bites) and a few drinks, there was a clear sense in the air that while marriage is a huge victory for our community, we still have work to do to ensure equality and justice for all New Yorkers. All of the speakers talked about taking the momentum we have built in our community and using it to work together to finally pass a statewide transgender rights law.

Please email me at abashaw AT prideagenda DOT org to get more involved in Western New York, and check out the rest of the photos on our Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Despite Flooding, Volunteer Appreciation Party in Troy a Success!

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

Last night, Sheilah Sable (Director of Upstate Organizing) and I had a great time with our fabulous Capital District volunteers at the Pride Agenda’s Volunteer Appreciation Party! We gathered at a restaurant in Troy called Bootlegger’s, right in the heart of Senator Roy McDonald’s district. Our volunteers are so dedicated that they came to the party despite breaking news that the Hudson was continuing to rise, flooding businesses along the banks, and closing bridges and businesses. Luckily, we stayed high and dry.

Many of the folks who came were our “veteran” volunteers. I am appreciative of all the hard work they put in over the past year, and especially thankful for the warm welcome I received in my first few months on the job. In talking with our volunteers, I was inspired by the various ways many have incorporated their advocacy into their lives at work, at church and in their neighborhoods. Often times this takes a good dose of courage and creativity.

In my first few months at the Pride Agenda, I have definitely learned what we mean when we say things like “We really count on our volunteers,” or “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.” How true it is! This summer, I tabled and organized many events, including Pride festivals, press conferences, rallies and various cultural events like the Glens Falls Artwalk and the Black and Latino Health Expo. All were successful and totally enjoyable because of our wonderful volunteers. We had to throw together a couple of events at the last minute, and in order to pull it off we needed our volunteers; they offered their connections to negotiate critical logistics, and then offered their spirit by showing up and participating.

The relationship between the Pride Agenda and our volunteers seems to be one of those rare connections in this world that is wholly voluntary with the possibility for a real win-win symbiosis. It is surely one to treasure. As an organizer, my goal is to ensure each volunteer is contributing effectively, using their skills, having fun, and also being empowered – by using their voice to engage others about a matter of equality. Hopefully it is a “win” for the volunteers; and the Pride Agenda “wins” by having successful events that advance our mission of LGBT equality and justice.

I left Bootlegger’s last night feeling deeply appreciative of our volunteers’ commitment to becoming stronger allies and advocates for the transgender community. Some of last night’s guests were marriage advocates primarily, who have learned about the dire need for transgender legal protections in New York State and are eager to continue the work for equality by becoming advocates for transgender rights. I look forward to helping others make this transition, so to speak...

Cheers and many thanks to all of our volunteers throughout the state! We look forward to another year of fierce advocacy, fun events and big successes in our movement for full equality. For more information and to learn more about the Transgender Rights Campaign, please be in touch: cargyros AT prideagenda DOT org.

In unity,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pride Agenda Endorses Dan Quart

The Pride Agenda is proud to give our endorsement to Dan Quart in the Special Election to fill the open Assembly seat in the 73rd district located on the East Side of Manhattan. Dan is a first-time candidate running to fill a seat long held by pro-LGBT legislators. Our community must ensure that the seat remains firmly in the hands of a legislator who will champion our issues and advance an agenda of equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families.

The Pride Agenda’s endorsement criterion is rigorous. Dan gave uniformly positive responses on our candidate questionnaire regarding the dozens of issues we have identified as part of our LGBT equality and justice agenda. This includes his support for a state human rights law to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and state funding for community-based programming to meet the specific health and human service needs of LGBT people, in areas like mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence and homeless services.

When asked how he would advance the goals of the Pride Agenda, Dan eloquently stated,
“I will work to organize support among the voters, I will lobby my colleagues for their support, I will attend press events and speak to the press regarding the importance of these issues, and I will have an open door policy to the LGBT community to discuss these issues and how we can most effectively implement them.”
As the race heats up in the next few weeks, spread the word about Dan and his candidacy. Let your neighbors know about his pledge to advance a pro-LGBT agenda. Dan’s voice will help ensure the Assembly maintains its record of leadership on issues of concern to our community. And most importantly, vote for Dan Quart on election day: September 13, 2011!

Support the Pride Agenda’s Political Action Committee so we can continue to support pro-LGBT candidates in the movement towards equality and justice.

Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

Friday, August 19, 2011

Being Recognized by our Peers: Pride Agenda at the Equality Federation Summer Meeting

A post by Executive Director Ross Levi

I am frequently asked whether New York ever talks to our colleagues in other states in an effort to share ideas and information. The Pride Agenda is a proud member of the coalition that allows for just that interaction: the Equality Federation, the national alliance of statewide LGBT advocacy organizations. Members of our staff travelled to Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend for the Federation’s summer meeting, where state LGBT organizations had the chance to learn from each other, strategize together and recharge our batteries with the inspiring tales of the amazing work being done in states throughout the nation, almost always with strained resources and in challenging environments.

This year, the Pride Agenda was able to provide some of that inspiration ourselves. It was truly humbling to have leaders from other states tell me how our marriage victory in New York has tangibly made a difference in their state. One talked about how the leadership of our governor was influential in getting their governor to come out in support of marriage; another said that the momentum we spurred in the Empire State might make the difference in a marriage ballot initiative they will be fighting soon. In recognition of the positive difference that our marriage victory has made nationwide, the Pride Agenda received an award (affectionately dubbed “The Feddie”) from our peers for 2011’s Most Amazing Accomplishment. The award was presented at the closing brunch where Tammy Baldwin, the out Wisconsin congresswoman, highlighted our achievement during her address to the group.

Among the workshops and panels, the weekend also featured a presentation by the class of Federation Summer interns who were placed with over a half dozen state organizations across the nation. Pride Agenda was pleased to be able to host Geoff Montes, an NYU Senior who worked in our Communications Department. This amazing group of young leaders in our movement received a standing ovation for their talent, passion and hard work, and we were very proud to have Geoff be part of the outstanding group.

This meeting also marked the end of my time on the Board of the Equality Federation, after having served during various points of my tenure as Secretary and Chair of the Governance Committee. I was honored beyond words to receive the Equality Federation’s very first Leadership Award for my service to the Federation and to the broader the movement. I am thrilled that the Pride Agenda will continue to be represented on the Board of this terrific collaborative by our Director of Governmental Projects and Community Development, Jonathan Lang.

Rejuvenated and back in New York, I look forward to putting to use the new ideas generated from the summer meeting, and racking up more victories to share with our sister state organizations next year.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What's on the Agenda

Often, you have to water the seeds of a movement for years before the vines start to show fruit. As the battle for marriage heated up, we were really able to see the fruits of our labor from seeds planted years ago and put them to effective use. Now we need your help to continue cultivating and harvesting these grapes and turning them into the sweet wine of victory.

Pride in Action

In 2003, the Pride Agenda launched our Pride in Action programs to work with the business, labor and faith communities in recognition that we need more than LGBT people fighting for LGBT equality and justice. Our Pride in the Pulpit, Pride in My Workplace and Pride in Our Union programs play critical roles in opening the hearts and minds of New Yorkers to the LGBT community and our families. Through these programs, the Pride Agenda has made deep inroads and valuable political alliances that have helped us advance our legislative and public policy goals. They also will be crucial to our work to make sure that our governmental wins live up to their promise and help spur real societal change.

Pride in the Pulpit
confronts religious-based bigotry by building a network of congregations and leaders of faith throughout New York State who advocate for equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families. This network is deepening their engagement in our transgender equality and justice work by helping get faith-based women’s groups involved and publicly supporting a statewide transgender civil rights bill.

Pride in My Workplace encourages workplaces throughout New York State to be free of discrimination and affirm the presence and contributions of their LGBT employees. In the aftermath of the marriage victory, a number of companies are considering eliminating benefits for domestic partners. We are very concerned about this possibility because at least until marriage is recognized by the federal government and more reliably in other states, some families may chose not to get married for immigration, adoption, taxation or personal reasons. The Pride Agenda has convened a series of lunch and learn sessions based on a white paper to underscore the need to maintain these vital programs, both in businesses and in unions.

Pride in Our Union
encourages unions in all sectors of the labor movement in New York State to be free of discrimination and to bargain and advocate on behalf of LGBT members and their families. In solidarity, we work to build a movement that calls for respect for diversity and advances the goal of social and economic justice for all. Currently, 90% of New York City municipal workers are covered for trans-related health care. This policy can be used as a model for other unions, and the Pride Agenda is advocating for its adoption. Also, our annual conference in November will feature a workshop on legal issues for same-sex couples.

Victory and the Road Ahead

Louis Bradbury and Marla Hassner, the Board Co-Chairs of the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation, laid out a vision of next steps for the Pride Agenda and our community that was published this week in Gay City News.

“…As we revel in a jubilant celebration of the passage of marriage equality, we must keep our eyes on the prizes still not realized. We must continue the incredible momentum we have achieved through partnering with our allies in the pulpit, the union halls, the workplace, and the government, as we create new alliances within our communities. And we must commit to fulfilling the vision of true equality and justice for all LGBT New Yorkers and our families.”

Equality Federation Summer Meeting
Last week, a number of Pride Agenda staffers attended the annual meeting of the Equality Federation, the national alliance of statewide LGBT advocacy organizations. We were repeatedly and enthusiastically thanked by our allies in other states for pushing for so many years and finally securing marriage; many of them said how the ripple effect of our victory has tangibly helped them in their work.It was inspiring to be faced with the depth of the impact that our efforts have, not only in New York, but on the rest of the country. In recognition of the marriage victory, the Pride Agenda received the Most Amazing Accomplishment Award from our peers. And in a very humbling gesture, I was awarded the Federation’s inaugural Leadership Award for the role I played in the marriage victory as well as my leadership on the Federation Board.

As the summer slowly winds to a close, I look forward to the increased momentum of the Fall and the work we have ahead. With your support, the Pride Agenda will continue to be a strong and effective statewide force advancing LGBT equality and justice. Together we will celebrate the day that vision is realized!

With Hope!
Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pride Agenda Goes to Madison for Equality Federation’s Summer Meeting

This past weekend, LGBT activists from across the country gathered in Madison, Wisconsin for Equality Federation’s annual Summer Meeting. I was fortunate enough to have been selected for the Federation’s Summer Internship Program (along with seven other talented individuals from various state equality groups, left) and got the chance to attend the meeting and present about my time here at the Pride Agenda. The four day conference was filled with panels, workshops, luncheons, revelry and even an appearance by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin at the closing brunch.

The topics of some of the workshops I attended ranged from the federal hate crime prevention measures and national efforts for safer public schools to raising money from social media and collaboration between community centers and advocacy groups. Nighttime activities included the Federation Fling (held at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) and a Pub Crawl of some of Fair Wisconsin’s (the host organization) favorite local bars.

The intern presentations took place Saturday, and aside from showcasing what I worked on at the Pride Agenda, interns from Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin presented on a wide range of initiatives they worked on over the past ten weeks. Equality Federation project specialist Renee Perry oversaw the intern program and was instrumental in organizing weekly conference calls for us as well as coordinating almost every aspect of our trip.

At the closing brunch on Sunday, the Pride Agenda was honored with the “Most Amazing Achievement” award for our work on the marriage equality campaign, and our Executive Director Ross Levi was recognized for his extraordinary dedication and guidance with the Federation’s first-ever Leadership Award. The first openly-lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin also spoke at the brunch and discussed how proud she was to be part of the movement and highlighted her pro-LGBT work in Congress. Overall, the summit was an engaging and informative way for the equality groups to get together and share the individual lessons learned throughout the year and also to celebrate the achievements in the movement. (right, Executive Director Ross D. Levi, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, me, and Director of Governmental Projects and Community Development Jonathan Lang)

Lastly, the Pride Agenda has intern positions open for the fall, so if you are interested check out our website for more information.

*Photos courtesy of the Equality Federation.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Work for Equality Continues

15 states and the District of Columbia have passed a law protecting transgender people from discrimination, but New York is unfortunately not on that list. Our state is still without a statute protecting transgender people from discrimination in basic areas of civil rights like housing, credit, employment, education and public accommodations. As a result, in most parts of this state, you can get fired, kicked out your home or thrown out of a restaurant or store simply for being transgender.

Clearly this is wrong. All New Yorkers should be treated fairly and equally under the law. Legislation that would extend civil rights to transgender people has been introduced into the state legislature every session since 2006, yet it has never been voted on in the New York State Senate. We cannot claim to have achieved LGBT equality without a statewide transgender non-discrimination law being introduced, voted on and passed by both the Assembly and the Senate, then signed into law by the Governor. Our work continues.

Share Your Story

One truth we’ve long held that was hammered home during the recent successful marriage campaign is the vital importance of sharing our stories. We, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied New Yorkers, need to talk about why it’s important to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Testimonials and stories from transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers about the daily realities of their lives are especially vital in educating people, especially those who already support transgender rights but struggle to articulate the compelling reasons why. We hope you will share your story about why New York State needs protections for transgender New Yorkers. Email our transgender rights organizer, Christopher Argyros, at cargyros AT prideagenda DOT org.

Broadening Transgender Equality and Justice
The public education work of the Empire State Pride Agenda helps change hearts and minds, not just so that we can pass a transgender civil rights bill, but so that all New Yorkers, including transgender New Yorkers, can live their lives with dignity. One third of transgender New Yorkers have been homeless. 74% have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, while 20% reported losing a job and 37% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression. 28% of transgender New Yorkers report having experienced a serious physical or sexual assault motivated by transphobia or homophobia. Since no single piece of legislation can solve these problems overnight, we’re working many different avenues to further transgender equality and justice.

In early January, the Pride Agenda worked closely with Governor Cuomo’s office on re-issuing the Executive Order prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of gender identity and expression. We’ve been supporting the Governor’s Office and the Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights to develop the policies procedures and training that go along with these guidelines. We have also been collaborating with other civil rights groups to urge the New York State Department of Health to improve the arcane and intrusive requirements to change gender markers on birth certificates. And through our Pride in Action programs we have been working with supportive companies and progressive unions to implement fair and inclusive polices, contracts and practices for transgender members, employees, clients and customers.

What’s Next

In ongoing efforts to establish strong, committed and powerful allied voices in support of the transgender community, our outreach to local and statewide leading women’s organizations grows each week, and includes groups like the League of Women Voters of New York State. Similarly, we are broadening and highlighting the support of police chiefs from major cities like Albany and Rochester. This public support will play an important role in emphasizing that passage of a transgender civil rights law in New York State is an important safety issue.

We continue to educate allies — LGB and straight New Yorkers, including supportive legislators — about the challenges faced by transgender individuals all over New York. Together we are mapping out a clear-cut, detailed campaign both to pass the transgender civil rights bill and to achieve broader equality and justice.

But in order to be successful, we need your energy and advocacy. We understand that some people may want to share their story anonymously or semi-anonymously for comfort or safety reasons. Please let us know if this is the case and we will respect your wishes. Email our transgender rights organizer, Christopher Argyros, to share your story – or to get more involved in the transgender equality and justice campaign in your community.

Join us. Our work continues.

In solidarity,

Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We are building a better New York; Thank you for making it happen.

It’s an amazing and joyous time for New Yorkers! For the first time ever, all loving committed couples are able to get married here in the Empire State. A wedding is about two people making a lifelong commitment to love and care for each other. But this summer of weddings is also a celebration for our community. For the first time in history, our families have access to the same protections and responsibilities that New York gives to all married couples, and that is momentous.

In recognition of the first day that same-sex couples could legally wed in New York State we were on the ground Sunday in Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Queens, Long Island, Manhattan, Rochester and Syracuse. Our staff was distributing “Just Married” sashes at City Clerks’ offices to couples receiving their marriage licenses and getting married. Designed to fulfill the adage “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” the blue sashes are keepsakes for couples from this historic day.

Lead Organizer Kate McDonough shared this story from the Manhattan Clerk’s office:

“On Sunday morning I boarded the J train with a box filled with hundreds of ‘Just Married’ sashes. People quietly peeked at my box and some let out a small smile. The scene at the clerk’s office was electric. Outside was like a never-ending wedding march as couples lined up to finally exchange vows. Some couples went as far as to have entire wedding parties, with bridesmaids in matching dresses and small children carrying flowers. It was wonderful to be a part of the day by handing out sashes. Couples snatched them as volunteers ran up and down the line or handed them off to newlyweds exiting the clerk’s office. As I gave sashes to one couple, the man grabbing the sash looked me in the eye and said, ‘16 years together and now we can be “just married;” It’s a great day.’”

Our Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros reported from Albany:

“Then, finally, the judge came out at midnight into the middle of the room with the first couple to be married. The room hushed while photographers scurried to get the best shots of this historic moment. The vows were fairly standard, but when the judge said those words which we had all heard at weddings past and taken for granted, ‘By the power vested in me by the laws of the State of New York…’ that right then was The Moment –a collective chill ran through the room. I think all of our eyes got a little teary. For me, that was when I fully realized the reality of what had happened: a momentous change in the law and in the progress of our society towards equality, and a historic moment for civil rights.”

Development Director Johanna Osburn congratulated the happy newlyweds in Queens:

“I had the honor of being part of this historic day, greeting and congratulating couples at Queens Borough Hall on Sunday morning as the first couples were married there. The looks on their faces as they walked out of the building, holding a certificate which took thousands of people and so many years to become real, were breathtaking – it was a combination of joy and awe and love, the likes of which I’ve never seen. And the families and friends there to support them may have been even more nervous and excited than the couples, as they recognized just what this day meant. Even a few couples who forgot something to receive their licenses were still smiling as they raced back home to get an ID or paperwork!”

We are now celebrating the result of decades of hard work by the Empire State Pride Agenda and others to open hearts and minds. Thank you for all that you’ve done to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and justice here in New York State. Marriage is a landmark victory, but there is still work that needs to be done:

  • We need to further transgender civil rights and pass a statewide transgender non-discrimination law to prevent people from being fired from their jobs or denied housing just because of how they express their gender.

  • Our government needs to do its part to address the health and human
    service needs of the LGBT community and protect the most vulnerable members of our community, like LGBT seniors and homeless youth.

  • We have to ensure that the Dignity for all Students Act is implemented effectively and fulfills its promise of making all youth safe from bullying and discrimination within their schools.

  • And we need to defend our marriage victory by standing up for those elected officials who stood by us when they are all up for election in November of 2012. We also need to help maximize the ripple effect of this marriage victory nationwide.

We are building a better New York. Once again, I know I can count on you to help us make it happen.

In solidarity,

Ross D. Levi

Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

PS - If you got married or are getting married, consider registering your wedding with the Pride Agenda. With our Wedding Registry, your guests can give a donation to help defend marriage in New York State, and you can receive your own "Just Married" sash!

Photos (in order) by Anahi DeCanio, Andrea Morales of The New York Times, and Eric Krupke.

“Something Blue”: The story behind our wedding day sashes

By Albany Intern Geoff Corey

In the days and weeks after marriage equality passed, our staff realized that another historic day was upon us. On Sunday, July 24, certain city clerk offices would be opening to celebrate the expansion of marriage rights. The first day only comes once, and our Executive Director, Ross Levi, wanted to have some sort of visual to mark the day, and provide couples with a keepsake to have and keep as a reminder of history. It was our Communications Manager, George Simpson, who first uttered “Something blue.”

A sash is used to recognize achievement. Whether on a graduate, a pageant winner, or even a hardworking member of a company, it is worn with pride by its recipient. Pride has always been a major part of our community, so it seemed natural that on a day marking a great historical achievement, couples would don sashes proclaiming their new status as a married couple.

We immediately got to work designing (in our heads and on paper) what we wanted the sashes to look like. Once we knew, we reached out to printing companies who were friendly to our cause. As it turns out, thick cloth sashes are quite expensive. Especially when ordering 1,500 of them. We instead found out we could make the sashes ourselves if we ordered 3,000 yards of custom printed ribbon. They would still look great and fall within our budget.

We had a company lined up and ready to print when suddenly they called us to say there was a problem. They didn’t have the presses to do the design we wanted. Even if they did, it was going to take at least 10 days to print them. We needed the ribbon in a week so we would have enough time to make them into sashes. We began to get nervous that the project wouldn’t work out. A few different staff members began looking online for other companies, but even if we found one we weren’t guaranteed that they would be able to print and ship them to us in time.

At the very last minute, I researched online and discovered a company that could print them and specialized in rush delivery. We worked through the weekend to make sure we would get the ribbon on time. It was a relief when it arrived four days before the 24th.

It was a relief until it sank in that we needed to cut 9,000 feet of ribbon into 1,500 sashes in a few days. The rolls of ribbon were stacked in our conference room; reminding the staff of how much work we had ahead of us. In Albany, I took on the role of cutting every two yards, and creating piles of incomplete sashes. In between organizing our push to pass GENDA, helping to implement the Dignity for All Students Act, and maintaining an efficient network of LGBT health and human service groups, staff members would come in and pin as many sashes as they could before they had to go back to work. Volunteers helped out too, such as Dusty (pictured right).

The sashes were ready to go on the Friday afternoon before marriage weekend. We sent Jonathan Lang and Brian Coffin to their hometowns of Buffalo and Syracuse, respectively. Alden Bashaw took charge of the events in Rochester. Sheilah Sable, Christopher Argyros, and I stayed in Albany for the midnight weddings. Joanna Solomonsohn took the sashes to Brookhaven, and Kate McDonough, Erica Pelletreau and Ross Levi split up to handle the hundreds of New York City nuptials. Most couples were excited to be donned with a “Just Married!” sash and proudly greeted family, friends and the media wearing them.

It’s great to know that so many loving couples from across the country are now able to legitimize their relationship in the eyes of New York State. The Pride Agenda was happy to be able to share in that celebration, and to provide couples with fun sashes as a gift on their wedding day. Congratulations to all the couples who were just married. The Pride Agenda wishes you well in the future, and hopefully you’ll one day find your “Just Married!” sash in the attic, and be reminded of all the joy of your historic wedding day.

Photos by Pride Agenda Staff and Eric Krupke

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Could a transgender civil rights bill prevent hate violence?

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

I’ve been further considering the Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 report recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH violence in the United States.

As I said in my previous post, the report and the recent murder of a young trans woman in DC, Lashai Mclean, show that anti-LGBTQH (defined for this report as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence continues to be rampant in the United States, with transgender people and people of color being disproportionately impacted. I am considering how our work here at the Pride Agenda, particularly our legislative campaigning, is a form of anti-violence work. As an attorney and someone committed to measurable, progressive social change, I am often questioning how changes in law actually lead to real, tangible improvement in people’s lives. I am hopeful that a civil rights bill prohibiting discrimination against transgender New Yorkers in the areas of employment, public accommodation, housing and credit will go far to improve lives in our communities, including mitigating the harassment and violence that transgender and gender nonconforming people endure.

First and perhaps most simply, is the broad and sweeping effect of such a bill on the public conscience. A trans civil rights bill will increase public awareness and send a clear message that treating transgender people as second class people is not tolerated under the law and, as the report states, such legislation can “inspire respectful attitudes...”

Second, prohibiting discrimination in the employment setting is critical in lowering violence against trans people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 74% of trans New Yorkers have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, while 20% reported losing a job and 37% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression… and these are just the known incidents of discrimination. As a result of this discrimination and other societal barriers, trans people are five times more likely to live in poverty compared to the rest of the population.

For trans people living in poverty and facing incredible obstacles in acquiring legitimate employment due to discrimination, there is often little choice but to engage in sex work for survival; and it is widely documented that trans people are disproportionately engaged in sex work. These circumstances place trans people in elevated risk situations and in settings where violence and abuse is common. Additionally, because prostitution is illegal in New York, it is less likely that victims will report incidents of violence; this nondisclosure allows violence to continue and escalate. According to the report, five out of the 12 trans women who were murdered in 2010 were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder.

Employment is not that only area where a trans civil rights bill could improve trans people’s opportunity and indirectly mitigate violence against trans people. Prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations (that is, all places generally open to the public) will also go far in reducing the levels of violence that trans people experience.

The bill will make it illegal for the employees of such businesses to outwardly discriminate or harass (which is a form of violence) transgender customers, patients, and clients. There are also many less direct examples. Occupying a more vulnerable and less economically stable position in our society, trans people need safe and reliable access to social services. The Discrimination Survey found that an astounding 18% of transgender respondents from New York State had been homeless at one point because of their gender identity or expression. A transgender civil rights bill, properly implemented, would make public accommodations such as domestic violence and homeless shelters more accessible to trans people. As the report detailed, 20% of violent incidents occurred on the street while 35% was committed by a stranger. Providing a safe place for homeless trans people to go, free from discriminatory treatment, is critical. Likewise, ensuring that all social service providers must fulfill basic needs in a non-discriminatory manner may result in more trans people accessing these services and being better equipped to survive and overcome challenging times, without turning to dangerous means.

A bill prohibiting discrimination against trans people would not solve these problems overnight. After passage, there would be much work to do in the application and implementation. But clearly, undoubtedly, a critical component in addressing the problem of discrimination is to make it illegal and punishable. As one trans rights activist recently said to me, “To be able to stand up in the face of discrimination and say, ‘That is illegal,’ would be a very impactful and empowering statement. Right now, we don’t even have that.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

New report underscores how bullying bill will protect trans New Yorkers

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

I am mourning the news that this week we lost yet another member of the trans community to violence. A young transgender woman of color named Lashai was murdered on the street in DC. She was walking with a friend at 4:30 a.m. and after having some words with two men on the street, she was fatally shot in the back. Her friends and family described her as a kind, well-loved person that “always wanted to do the right thing to survive.”

Tragically, Lashai’s murder isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve been reviewing the Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 report recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH (defined for this study as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence in the United States.

The results of the report show that transgender people, particularly trans people of color, experience disproportionately high prevalence and severity of violence in every area that was examined. For example, trans people and people of color are twice as likely to experience hate violence involving assault or discrimination, compared to other LGBQH people. And while trans people were reported to represent 8.6% of the LGBTQ population, 12 out of the 27 documented LGBTQH murders involved victims that were transgender women. This most recent horrifying murder only confirms this trend.

The report and the murder of Lashai are a reminder that deterrence and punishment through hate crimes legislation, while important, is only part of the solution to address violence targeted at transgender and gender nonconforming people. What is so clearly needed is systematic change to address and reduce hate violence. The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect July 2012, has the potential to be an important component in that systematic change. Likewise, passage of the proposed Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) would be another significant step in decreasing incidents of violence and promoting holistic positive change for our communities. It is my hope that this duo of enacted and proposed legislation to protect transgender New Yorkers will address many of the root causes of the elevated risk of violence experienced by trans and gender nonconforming people.

The Dignity for All Students Act prohibits harassment and discrimination against students in school, including harassment based on real or perceived gender identity and expression (as well as race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, and sex). It also sets up a framework for promoting a more positive school culture through sensitivity training and classroom curricula on diversity.

Besides obviously protecting students from violence within the school setting, the Dignity Act may also indirectly lower violence against trans and gender nonconforming people outside of schools. A 2009 report by GLSEN showed that 87% of trans high school students had been verbally harassed because of their gender expression, which in turn was found to be related to increased absenteeism, decreased educational aspirations, and lower academic performance. A hostile educational environment has also been linked to higher dropout rates among trans youth. By mandating safer schools, the Dignity Act could serve to decrease these disproportionately high rates of underperformance and dropout. You can see that this would have far-reaching effects: Trans youth would be less likely to turn to drugs, less likely to seek illegitimate forms of employment, less likely to become homeless (all problems that currently effect LGBT youth more commonly than their non-LGBT counterparts), and therefore less likely to wind up in unstable living situations and contexts that entail a higher risk of violence and suicide.

Without a doubt, there is much work to be done to educate the public and raise awareness around trans issues, and the resulting de-stigmatization of trans people will go a long way to lessen the attacks on trans people. The complimenting prong to that is the empowerment of trans individuals with educational opportunity, and all the benefits that flow from a full education, so that trans people are not put on a dangerous course at a young age. With effective implementation, I’m hopeful that the Dignity for All Students Act can work towards this positive, reformative result. All students deserve a fair chance and a safe place to learn and grow.

In my next post, I will address some of the ways that the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act will also serve to protect transgender New Yorkers from violence, through allowing greater opportunities for individual and community empowerment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marriage for a lifetime — a gift that’s truly priceless.

A marriage is between two people who make a lifelong commitment to love and care for each other. But this historic moment is also a celebration for our community. For the first time in history, our families are being afforded the same rights and responsibilities as others; and that is momentous.

Many couples who have been together for years don’t need a blender or gravy boat. In lieu of a gift, they are asking friends and family to send them off into wedded bliss with a donation to support equality and justice. Marriage for a lifetime — a gift that’s truly priceless.

You can go to to either register your wedding with the Pride Agenda or give a gift in honor of a couple you know. Donations go toward defending the marriage victory we secured this year so that all marriages can last forever.

One to two business days after registering, you will be listed alphabetically in a drop-down menu at You will also receive an email with sample text to send to your friends and family explaining the gift registry. We then will provide you with a list of every guest who made a special gift in your name so that you can personally thank your friends and family for their support.

Marriage in New York State is a landmark accomplishment, and the result of decades of hard work by the Empire State Pride Agenda and others, but there is still more that needs to be done:

  • In New York State, we need to ensure that no legislator who voted in favor of marriage loses their seat because of that vote. Nationwide, the other side cannot claim one victory unseating a legislator merely for their marriage vote. We won’t allow that to change.

  • Same-sex couples can only get married in six states and the District of Columbia. The Defense of Marriage Act still exists on the federal level, but a bill to repeal it faced a historic debate in Congress just yesterday. We will do our part to guarantee New York provides momentum for the country.

  • Transgender New Yorkers can be fired from their jobs or kicked out of their homes just because of how they express their gender identity. This is wrong and we need a statewide transgender civil rights bill.

With fond wishes on your special day,

-- The Empire State Pride Agenda team

PS - The Marriage Equality Act goes into effect this Sunday, July 24. However, because that is a Sunday, many town and city clerk’s offices may be closed, or have special rules for the occasion. In New York State there is a 24-hour waiting period after a license is issued before a marriage can be solemnized at a wedding. Some jurisdictions will provide judges on hand to waive this requirement. Please check with your local clerk’s office. We also have more information and FAQs on our website, and will be updating it as more details come in.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Register your wedding with the Pride Agenda

Let the weddings begin! By Monday, July 25, all loving, committed same-sex couples will finally be able to get married in New York State. You can honor and celebrate these marriages through a gift that’s priceless: Ensuring marriage equality for a lifetime.

Register your wedding with the Pride Agenda
or give a gift to a happy couple to allow us to defend the marriage victory we secured this year and ensure that our marriages are able to last forever.

There are many reasons to consider the Pride Agenda when deciding where to make your gift registry. Couples who have lived together for years may find they don’t need the typical housewarming gifts that some newlyweds would seek. New couples may feel that helping to defend their marriage from attack is the best gift they could ever receive. Straight couples may know that the fight for their LGBT friends is far from over, and a gift to the Pride Agenda in their name will help ensure that all marriages, and all families, are honored and protected equally by New York State.

With the Empire State Pride Agenda Wedding Registry you can encourage your guests to give a gift in your name for LGBT equality and justice. All they need is the link Or, you can give a gift in honor of any happy couple you know. Let them see that you care by standing up for their marriage.

I can’t believe the day is almost here. Let’s do our part to help marriage last forever.


Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Historic Victory for Marriage Falls on Pride Weekend

Post by Intern Geoff Montes

On Friday night, history was made as the New York State Senate voted 33-29 to extend the right to marry to loving, same-sex couples across the state, ending a campaign the Pride Agenda has been working on for over ten years. New York became the sixth and largest state in the U.S. to offer such protections, instantly recharging the national dialogue over marriage equality. The momentous victory was achieved in large part due to Governor Cuomo’s unrelenting strategy for the legislation, part of which was building a coalition of statewide LGBT rights groups, which included the Empire State Pride Agenda, Freedom to Marry, Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality New York and Log Cabin Republicans, all of whom joined the Governor and hundreds of everyday New Yorkers to march Sunday in New York City Pride.

Immediately following the vote, crowds descended upon West Village landmark the Stonewall Inn, widely regarded as the birthplace of the gay rights movement in 1969. Thousands celebrated the passage of the historic legislation well into the night in a joyous and fitting start to New York City’s pride weekend. Similar revelry occurred at community gatherings across the state where Pride Agenda staff and board joined other LGBT activists to celebrate.

The 42nd annual New York City Pride March took place on Sunday, with organizers estimating as many as 2 million spectators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off the parade, receiving roaring cheers and proudly marching alongside girlfriend Sandra Lee, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by representatives of New Yorkers United for Marriage.

Kicking off Pride weekend, the Pride Agenda also joined the Transgender Day of Action as hundreds of supporters gathered and marched through Foley Square in Lower Manhattan demanding equal rights. Our own Jonathan Lang also spoke at a press conference Friday announcing a campaign for homeless LGBT youth.