UFT Unity and LGBTQ Educators

The UFT has many amazing LGBTQ educators in our ranks. They do extraordinary work, each and every day, educating and caring for New York City’s public school students.

Today, LGBTQ members of the UFT can be open and proud about who they are, and about their relationships with their loved ones, because of the rights fought for and won by the UFT. All NYC educators – both queer and straight – have the freedom to teach their students to treat each other with respect and dignity, and to oppose bigotry and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But when we look with shock at what is happening in other parts of the nation – from the “don’t say gay” Florida bill that would prohibit teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues to the threats of the Texas governor to criminally prosecute school librarians and teachers that provide LGBTQ themed books to students – we quickly remember that it wasn’t that long ago that our LGBTQ educators and students were facing great challenges right here in NYC. If we are now in good shape here, and able to aid educators in other parts of the country in their struggles, it is because of what our union, with UFT Unity leadership, has accomplished.

What is the record?

  • With UFT Unity leadership, the UFT was one of the very first unions in the U.S. to win protection against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our contract.
  • During the ‘Children of the Rainbow’ controversy in the early 1990s, the Unity leadership of the UFT successfully defended open LGBTQ teachers such as Danny Dromm who were fighting for an inclusive curriculum. (Dromm was later elected to City Council with UFT support, where he would lead the Education Committee.)
  • When the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to take a toll on New York City educators, the Unity leadership of the UFT organized a special union office that supported members with AIDS in obtaining the health care and social services they needed. The union officially recognized World Aids Day, and committed itself to the fight to eradicate AIDS.
  • The Unity leadership of the UFT won ‘domestic partner’ status for DoE employees, allowing the families of LGBTQ members the same access to city health insurance that other families had.
  • When the Harvey Milk High School was established as a refuge for LGBTQ students who had been thrown out of their homes and bullied in regular school settings, and immediately came under attack from anti-gay bigots, the Unity leadership of the UFT rose to its defense, while others remained silent. The school survived and thrived.
  • The Unity leadership of the UFT provided key support in the successful battles to pass historic ‘gay rights’ bills in New York City and New York State.
  • The Unity leadership of the UFT won the inclusion of full health care services for transgender members, including gender affirmation surgery, in our health insurance coverage.
  • In cooperation with LGBTQ community partners, the UFT has developed and distributed culturally competent curriculum, lesson plans and guides to making our classrooms into safe and welcoming places for LGBTQ students. We encourage the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.
  • Organized and led by UFT Unity members, the UFT Pride Committee educates LGBTQ members on their rights in the workplace. It established and administered scholarships for graduating New York City public school students who identify as LGBTQ and have exhibited good scholarship and leadership qualities. It organized the Drag Queen Story Hour to promote literacy in earlier grades.
  • With the leadership of UFT Unity members, our national American Federation of Teachers submitted amicus briefs in two cases that won historic advances for LGBTQ rights – in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right of LGBTQ individuals to marry, and in Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended civil rights protection against discrimination in employment and housing to LGBTQ individuals.

UFT Unity is the most diverse caucus in the UFT, with strong representation from the full mosaic of NYC public school educators. We are especially proud that the first openly lesbian president of a major New York City union and the first openly lesbian president of a major AFL-CIO union, Randi Weingarten, came from the ranks of UFT Unity.

Against this record, with consistent support for LGBTQ educators and students over decades of battles, what do the opposition caucuses in UFCUFT have to offer?

You won’t find a single mention of LGBTQ educators and LGBTQ students in their platform for this election. Not one.

These are groups that seem to think that tweets are the way to engage in meaningful political action: they have published thousands since the last UFT election. When you start adding up their tweets that even mention LGBTQ educators and LGBTQ students, you won’t use up all the fingers on one hand. For the opposition caucuses in UFCUFT, LGBTQ educators and LGBTQ students don’t even rise to an afterthought.

If you want to be a social justice caucus, you don’t just proclaim that you believe in social justice: you do the work of social justice. You don’t just talk the talk of social justice, you walk the walk of social justice.

With national attacks on LGBTQ educators and students, with bannings of LGBTQ themed books, prohibitions on discussing LGBTQ issues in the classroom and manufactured moral panics about transgender kids playing on athletic teams, we will need all of our union – the UFT here in New York City, NYSUT throughout the state and the AFT across the nation – to have leaders fully committed to the struggle for LGBTQ rights and freedom.

Only one caucus, UFT Unity, has a record of commitment to the struggle. Only one caucus has the know-how and wherewithal to use all the union’s tools – contract negotiations, participation in elections, lobbying of elected officials, court cases, public communications, and professional development – to win social justice for LGBTQ educators and LGBTQ students.

UFT Unity: we do the work of social justice unionism.