Unions and Their Transgendered Members
Labor forum looks at ways to improve record on gender rights
[NEW YORK, NY] - While American unions haven?t always had a record of being in the vanguard of civil rights, some have been helpful to people of transgender experience in protecting their rights on the job. LGBT labor and transgender activists gathered at the Central Labor Council in New York this week to strategize how to get unions more involved in this cutting edge human rights issue.
"What Unions Need to Know about the New Transgender Rights Law" was a forum sponsored on January 28 by Pride at Work, the LGBT interest group within the AFL-CIO.
At the forum, City Councilmember Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) credited labor support with easing passage of the city law banning discrimination on the basis of "gender identity and expression" last Spring. In fact, she said, that bill was a lot less controversial than the one she spearheaded requiring the city to recognize civil unions and same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere.
But, Quinn is concerned about implementation of the transgender rights law. Matt Foreman, one of the City?s new Human Rights Commissioners and the interim executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda who was on hand, said that the Commission is currently working on compliance guidelines for the transgender rights law.
Donna Cartwright, an employee of The New York Times for the past 26 years and a member of the Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America, spoke about her experience transitioning on the job from male to female. Before coming out about her transitioning, she spoke to a labor lawyer and her union and got their support. She described her experience as good, but ticked off the cases of other people of transgendered experience in unions who have been harassed, denied use of restrooms, and fired without recourse.
Restrooms seem to be a particularly controversial issue. While Cartwright was transitioning, she was limited to one women?s room in the building that other employees were made aware that she was using. After gender reassignment surgery, all the women?s rooms were open to her. Paisley Currah of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, who moderated the evening, said, "One should be able to use the restroom that fits your gender identity."
Cartwright said that this issue requires education for management and line workers, an effort that unions can help with.
"The problems we face are based on fear," she said, "and that can be corrected."
Cartwright also called for coverage of gender reassignment surgery in union health plans.
"It?s called ?experimental treatment,? but it has a long proven track record."
Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, part of the United Auto Workers, said that the writers voted to cover transgendered people two years ago. The UAW as a whole added sexual orientation to its policy in 1993, but his efforts to add gender identity were stalled initially. He?s hoping enough support can be built to accomplish that at the union?s next convention four years from now.
Pauline Park of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy was also present, noting the special problems faced by some transgendered immigrants who cannot get their home countries to reissue birth certificates for their new genders.