Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren Shows True Leadership; NYS Legislature Must Pass GENDA Now

By Ove Overmyer
President, CSEA City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420

At its core, the Labor Movement and working people have been fighting for dignity, safety, respect and equality, well, since ever. And, just recently, Maryland Governor O'Malley signed into law a bill that bans discrimination targeting transgender Marylanders, bringing the total to eighteen states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico that provide protections on the basis of gender identity and expression. The Maryland bill is the latest example of the progressive nature and development on our nation’s civil rights journey toward equality and justice.

Earlier this year, the New York State Assembly Governmental Operations Committee passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) with bi-partisan support, setting it up to be passed by the full Assembly for the seventh year in a row. In 2010, I crafted union language for a statewide resolution submitted to the more than one-thousand plus delegate body of the Civil Service Employees Association to support GENDA, which ultimately passed with the encouragement of CSEA President Danny Donohue and Vice President Mary Sullivan. Even though New York State is considered one of the more progressive states in the nation, GENDA has failed to even come up for a vote in the NYS Senate. It is particularly troubling and ironic to me that we cannot collectively act in the best interest of our transgender brothers and sisters when it comes to employment, public accommodations and healthcare.

More recently, the White House is backing a review of the military's ban on transgender service members and on Saturday, May 17, City of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Council member Matt Haag announced at the Empire State Pride Agenda's Spring Dinner that the City of Rochester will extend transition-related medical coverage to all city employees. Personally speaking, this is one giant step that affects me directly as a labor leader. I know many co-workers who will benefit tremendously by this policy change—and now I can truly say that my employer is no longer holding some workers to a different standard for just being their true authentic self.

As the union elected President of the Civil Service Employees Association, City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420, I am extremely proud of my colleagues in labor and our city officials. The inclusion of transition-related care in municipal benefits will improve the health and well-being of transgender employees and also send a strong message to the rest of our state that we need to provide medically-necessary care to all transgender New Yorkers.

The benefits will go into effect beginning January 1, 2015 at which time the City of Rochester will add transgender healthcare benefits for employees and their family members who are enrolled in the City’s ‘enhanced’ medical plan. Approved by the City’s Labor Management Healthcare Committee in April, the new coverage will pay for services related to gender reassignment surgery such as medical and psychological counseling, hormone therapy and cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries.

The new city policy is completely consistent with our mission, vision and values of our great city and my union, and I could not be more proud of Mayor Warren and Council member Matt Haag. I couldn’t agree more when Mayor Warren explained to more than 500 people at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center on Saturday night, “Eliminating barriers to health care is simply the right thing to do. The City was the first to support domestic partnerships [1994] and I am happy that we lead the effort to equalize benefits for all once again.” Plain and simple, Mayor Warren gets it. I am particularly pleased that my employer will now ensure that City of Rochester employees, their spouses, and dependents will all have the fullest gender affirming benefits our insurer provides.

As we celebrate this important momentum booster for equal rights, the Labor Movement and working people still face an uphill battle until GENDA becomes law in New York State and some revision of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) passes through Congress. Though GENDA has been well received in the NYS Assembly, conservative factions in the Senate continue to allow discrimination based on gender expression and identity. A key group of Senators, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), has the significant power to influence what legislation comes to the floor.

It's time for NYS Governor Cuomo to join Mayor Warren and the City of Rochester, Maryland Governor O'Malley and the White House by standing up for equal rights for all workers in America. It’s time to pass GENDA once and for all. Please call your lawmakers today and ask them to do the right thing.

ESPA's Equality & Justice Day Rally at NYS Capitol, May 2011.
photo: Ove Overmyer

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