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)

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