Scores of activists traveled to the New York State capitol May 17 for LGBQT Advocacy Day, a lobbying event in support of issues important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer community.
In welcoming activists, Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice president, termed personal stories "the most powerful lobbying tool" at their disposal. "Your experiences help lawmakers understand why they must support these bills," said Pallotta. "Your stories have the power to change hearts and minds."
Activists lobbied lawmakers in support of three bills: the Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression; the Child-Parent Security Act, which recognizes the legitimacy of children born through assisted reproductive technology and legalizes surrogate parenting contracts; and the Anti-Conversion Therapy Act, which prevents mental health professionals from engaging in sexual-orientation and gender identity change therapy.
James Shultis, the Pride Center of the Capital Region's director of programs, deemed safety a key reason for passing the GENDA act. "GENDA helps people like me navigate safely through the world," said Shultis, explaining that the civil rights of transgender men and women are not legally protected under current laws. This leaves them no legal recourse if their rights are violated in instances such as wrongful termination from employment, rental evictions and refusal to hire.
Maureen Singer, a school psychologist and East Greenbush Teachers Association member, detailed the negative impact — including depression and suicide — that conversion therapy can have on gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. "This type of therapy is completely unethical," she said. "We need legislation to prohibit it from happening."
NYSUT's political director, Melinda Person, brought her three-week-old son, Jude, to lobby for the Child-Parent Security Act. She detailed the expense and intrusion she and her wife, the non-biological parent to three sons born to the couple through in-vitro fertilization, endured to "adopt" their children. "This bill would allow same-sex partners to simply declare the parent of their children instead of having to go through legal channels," she said.
In addition to NYSUT, the advocacy day was supported by a wide range of statewide LGBTQ and labor organizations, including the Capital Region and Western New York Pride Centers, the Gay Alliance, the Public Employees Federation, 1199 SEIU and the New York Capital Region chapter of GLSEN.