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.