Although he spent much of the day sleeping, Jude Person was a forceful lobbyist for the May 17 LGBTQ Advocacy Day at the New York State Capitol in Albany. While the 3-week-old dozed, his mother, Melinda Person, NYSUT's political director who attended the event as a parent, detailed the expense and intrusion she and her wife, Kelly, the non-biological parent to their three sons, endured to "adopt" their children. All three were conceived by the couple through in-vitro fertilization.
"This bill would allow same-sex partners to simply declare the parent of their children instead of having to go through legal channels," said Person of the Child-Parent Security Act, one of three bills highlighted during the event.
The mother and son were among nearly 150 participants lobbying for issues important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and questioning/ queer community. Advocacy day coincided with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a worldwide commemoration of homosexuality's declassification as a disease by the World Health Organization in 1990.
In welcoming activists, Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice president, termed personal stories "the most powerful lobbying tool" at your disposal. "Your experiences help lawmakers understand why they must support these bills," said Pallotta. "Your stories have the power to change hearts and minds."
In addition to the Child-Parent Security Act, which recognizes the legitimacy of children born through assisted reproductive technology and legalizes surrogate parenting contracts, participants lobbied lawmakers in support of the Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act (GENDA), which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression; and the Anti-Conversion Therapy Act, which prevents mental health professionals from engaging in sexual-orientation and gender identity change therapy with minors.
James Shultis, director of programs at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, deemed safety a key reason for passing GENDA. "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 conversion therapy can have on gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, including depression and suicide. "This type of therapy is completely unethical," she said. "We need legislation to prohibit it from happening."
A small but mighty contingent of youth also shared their experiences with lawmakers during the event, underscoring the bills' importance for LGBTQ teens. They advocated for gender-neutral school bathrooms and cited the high suicide rate among LGBTQ youth.
"Not everyone can do this, but I can, so I do," said Daniel Rodriguez, a student at Albany High School, of his efforts. Other capital region youth advocates included Barbara McMillen, Guilderland High School; Rave Stein, Shaker High School; and Sarah Davis, Hudson Valley Community College. In February, Jack Einstein, a Shaker High School student, spoke before the NYSUT Civil and Human Rights Committee about I AM HUMAN, a campaign he founded to raise awareness of transgender rights. For more, visit http://iamhumanproject.wix.com/iamhumanproject.
In addition to NYSUT, a wide range of labor organizations supported LGBTQ Advocacy Day, including, CSEA, New York State AFL-CIO, 1199 SEIU and PEF.
Through its LGBTQ Committee, co-chaired by NYSUT Vice Presidents Catalina Fortino and Paul Pecorale, NYSUT is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQ members.
Visit www.nysut.org/LGBTQ for information.