From Our Readers: ESPA did NOT start Pride at Work

To The Editor:
As President of the Rochester Finger Lakes Chapter of Pride at Work AFL-CIO I wish to correct a significant misconception about Pride at Work AFL-CIO, while simultaneously thanking you for your excellent article highlighting local labor icon and LGBT ally Jim Bertolone, President of the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
The origins of Pride at Work AFL-CIO (P@W) were mistakenly ascribed in the article to the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA). It is a common error, but ESPA focuses almost exclusively on legislation, while P@W offers resources and “hands-on” support for LGBT workers personally facing bias or harassment on the job or within their unions.
Unfortunately this confusion has had some significant consequences. Resources and recognition meant for P@W have sometimes been diverted to ESPA, but the more important consequence is that LGBT union workers who need immediate support when they are facing active discrimination do not realize that there is an organization dedicated to their survival on the job. P@W regularly encounters LGBT workers who have quit jobs because of harassment, overwhelmed by the prospect of fighting alone for their rights.
Recently we were approached by a gentleman fired after a dozen years of good reviews because he was “outed” in a highly conservative job setting. It was clearly a discrimination case, but he had signed away his rights in a settlement rather than fight the system in isolation. He found P@W too late. The Empty Closet can help P@W get the word out to other workers that we can offer guidance to any members of the LGBT community who are experiencing workplace discrimination.
Pride at Work AFL-CIO is the official LGBT constituency group of AFL-CIO and is the only organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender union members. We work directly with labor organizations at state and federal levels and locally have a seat on the Executive Board of Rochester Labor Council. We are familiar with union structure, culture and the nuances of contract negotiations. In the absence of full legal protections for LGBT workers, a well-negotiated union contract can offer benefit equity and broad workplace protections. For instance P@W is spearheading the effort to train contract negotiators to include language on “gender expression and identity” to protect Transgender workers while state and federal legislation remains stalled.
Pride at Work also leverages their intentionally cultivated union relationships to pass LGBT legislation. In December 2011 the Rochester Chapter of Pride at Work AFL-CIO was the recipient of the “Mother Jones Award” given by the Rochester Labor Council in recognition of the work P@W did to educate and mobilize the local labor community to support NY Marriage Equality. P@W continues to work in collaboration with many organizations to advance legislation of importance to LGBT people.
The support of the labor community by this newspaper and the Gay Alliance has been outstanding over the years and we wish to express our on-going gratitude.
Thank you.
Bess Watts, President RFL Pride at Work AFL-CIO

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