Advocates seek funding for LGBTQ employment initiative

"Pride at Work" event at City Hall in June.
Advocates at City Hall on June 8.
Donna Aceto

Activists, lawmakers, and non-profit leaders joined together at City Hall on June 8 to encourage the city to allocate funds to help connect LGBTQ people to employment opportunities — including unionized jobs — as elected officials begin to hash out the city budget.

Advocates chanted “we’re here, we’re queer, give us a union career” as they called on city lawmakers to set aside $501,000 in the upcoming budget for the Pride at Work initiative, which would establish a pilot program to recruit queer folks, help usher them into unionized jobs across multiple industries, and lay out civil service and certification programs to help prepare individuals for a future job. The AFL-CIO’s LGBTQ affinity group leads Pride at Work, which has a national office in Washington, DC, and more than 20 chapters in different parts of the country. The Ironworkers Union and National Education Association are also involved as part of a coalition leading the employment initiative in New York, according to Andy Bowen, who is playing a leading role in the publicity efforts for the program.

The funding, advocates hope, would be steered to non-profits and government agencies. Among the groups seeking funding include Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, Destination Tomorrow, Mt. Sinai Health System, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), and Pathways to Apprenticeship. Advocates would like the funding to provide the resources necessary to establish a new LGBTQ liaison role within the city’s Department of Administration Services.

The funding request would cover one year of a pilot program, though advocates envision a multi-year effort if they can secure the money they need.

Out Councilmember Tiffany Cabán of Queens, who serves as co-chair of the LGBTQ Caucus and chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, added her voice to the advocacy effort and stressed that union jobs can help protect queer workers from discrimination, harassment in the workplace, and low pay.

“Especially in the face of a nationwide surge in repressive laws and public violence targeting our beloved queer and especially trans and gender non-conforming friends, family, and neighbors, it is imperative that we act now, and boldly,” Cabán said in a written statement.

Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán at the podium.Donna Aceto

Another out city lawmaker, Chi Ossé of Brooklyn, also joined the rally to support the program.

Henry Garrido, the executive director of District Council 37, is one of the union leaders pushing for the funding.

“Increasing pathways to civil service for members of the LGBTQ+ community not only supports the creation of great union jobs but it reinforces our values of inclusion and opportunity,” Garrido said in a written statement.

Lisa Ohta, who heads up the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, Local 2325, said the discrimination facing LGBTQ New Yorkers — especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals — can affect folks in the workplace.

“This discrimination impacts both hiring and conditions on the job for those members of the community who are able to obtain employment,” Ohta said. “As a result, there exists an urgent need for programs to help LGBTQ+ New Yorkers access and succeed in good union jobs.”

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which provides legal services for trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming folks and advocates for social justice, underscored the broad impact the employment opportunities could have on marginalized queer folks in New York City.

“We all deserve respect and dignity, and workers rights are human rights,” Sasha Alexander, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s director of membership, said in a written statement. “Trans justice is economic justice is racial justice! If we can shift the conditions for low income LGBTQ+ people and trans people of color in New York City, now that’s a happy pride.”

Councilmember Chi Ossé of Brooklyn.Donna Aceto
Sasha Alexander of Sylvia Rivera Law Project points to the connection between economic justice, justice, and racial justice.Donna Aceto
Representatives from the Translatinx Network.Donna Aceto
Desma Holcomb holds a sign emphasizing the importance of union jobs for queer folks.Donna Aceto
Members of the Actors’ Equity Association with Andy Bowen.Donna Aceto