Gabriel Haaland

The right to transgender health care


OPINION When I first came out as a transgender man in the mid 1990s, I quickly realized that I would have to pay out-of-pocket for the health care I needed.

Nearly every insurance plan has outdated exclusions that bar transgender people from receiving medically necessary health care. Everything from cancer screenings to the care related to gender transition is commonly excluded, despite being provided without exclusion to non-transgender health insurance customers.

For working people everywhere, including members of the LGBT community, accessible, affordable, quality healthcare is critical. And for union members like myself, healthcare equity is part of a basic and broader vision for equality for all people.

In recognition of this vision, Pride at Work, the SEIU National Lavender Caucus, National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, and Basic Rights Oregon have partnered for the very first Transgender Month of Action, aimed at lifting the healthcare inequities that face our community.

I began to gender transition in 1996, starting with hormone therapy, a process that required walking through countless hoops. I will forever be thankful to the Tom Wadell Clinic and Lyon Martin Clinic for making hormone therapy accessible to low-income and uninsured trans people like myself, but I know I was one of the lucky ones. A few years later, when I was insured, I began to feel as if insurance companies were the gatekeepers of my body.

I knew that I needed to get chest surgery and that it wouldn’t be covered by my insurance, so I held a rent party and told my friends and loved ones that I needed help. It took a lot of vulnerability to do that. Like everyone else, transgender people need acute care when they are sick and preventative care to keep us from becoming ill, including services that are traditionally considered to be gender specific — such as Pap smears, prostate exams, and mammograms.

But insurers frequently expand discriminatory exclusions in a way that denies transgender people coverage for basic services. Take the outrageous example of a transgender woman in New Jersey who was denied coverage for a mammogram on the basis that it fell under her plan’s sweeping exclusion for all treatments “related to changing sex.”

Sometimes, trans people are denied care completely. In the late 1990s, I went to a gynecologist, but the doctor refused to treat me. Over the next 10 years, likes so many other trans people, I did not get an exam, too embarrassed and outraged to seek treatment.

In 2001, I worked with the a group of transgender healthcare activists to remove discriminatory exclusions for trans employees. When the Board of Supervisors voted to remove these exclusions, it was a huge and historic victory. Since that decision over a decade ago, San Francisco has proudly provided inclusive health care to city employees — and there’s been no cost increase to the overall plan.

Pride at Work, the organization that brings together LGBT union members and their allies, has a sign in the office that states: An injury to one is an injury to all. That’s the premise that underscores the labor movement’s commitment to LGBT equality, including trans-inclusive healthcare.

And it’s why Pride at Work is organizing local and national efforts to educate LGBT people and labor unions about the importance of ensuring access to basic healthcare for transgender people and providing coverage of medically-necessary transition-related care in health insurance. This first-of-its-kind effort is inspired by the belief that all workers deserve to have all medically-necessary care covered by health insurance, including transgender people whose healthcare needs are not being met.

Gabriel Haaland is co-vice president of Pride at Work.

A new feminism for San Francisco


OPINION Accountability is one of the hardest things that we have to do. Being accountable stretches us to our very limits as human beings. Blame and deflection is a function of shame, and more often than not, when we make a mistake, it’s more common to point the finger at someone else than it is to acknowledge our mistake and work towards a different practice. The story time and time again is how it never happened — and then when the water gets too hot, there’s generally a soft acknowledgment that something did happen, but by then, the damage is done and trust is broken.

As feminists working in the progressive community for social justice, we are calling for a new type of accountability — one that’s not about demonization or polarization, but instead consists of checking ourselves, checking each other, supporting each other when we are brave, and having the courage and integrity to acknowledge our mistakes and work towards making whole what has been damaged.

Progressives need to take a look at ourselves and come together so that we can advance our vision for San Francisco. We aim to build a progressive movement in San Francisco that is rooted in compassion and love, that acknowledges our contradictions and works to create bridges across class, race, and gender that are so often the typical pitfalls that keep us from accomplishing what we really want and need. Checking ourselves is an act of love for ourselves and for our communities.

The last few weeks in San Francisco have not just been about men behaving badly; it’s also been about women treating each other badly. White feminists in San Francisco came together to “save” Eliana Lopez, an immigrant woman of color, but never actually included her in the conversation — and then treated her like she had Stockholm syndrome. Women who supported Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi were suddenly not feminists anymore. Survivors of domestic violence who supported Mirkarimi and supported redemption were shunned by a large portion of the domestic violence community.

We recognize that there are important reasons why domestic violence law allows charges to brought without the consent of the survivor; however, in this case, these laws were misused. How demoralizing to see a largely white, second-wave feminist advocate community come together around a woman they failed to include in the conversation about what she felt was best for herself and her family. Are we still in the 1950s?

The attempt to remove Mirkarimi from office was a political attack. It does a disservice to the cause of domestic violence to use it as a political tool to unseat a politician. At the same time, it was also regrettable that many progressives supporting the sheriff did not take the domestic violence charges against him seriously enough — both in the initial outcry that surrounded the charges and by being disrespectful towards the domestic violence advocates who testified at City Hall.

On the other hand, following close on the heels of the Mirkarimi situation, District 5 candidate Julian Davis was accused of a troubling history of inappropriate and nonconsensual groping by more than one woman. We have to take into account that there is an unacceptable cultural reality that people are likely to believe accusations against men of color by white women that are untrue, but that is not what has happened with the accusations brought forward about Davis.

In this scenario many in the progressive community knew about this history and were complicit in silencing any real conversation about it. It was only when Davis started intimidating one of the women that brought accusations against him with threats of legal action that a real conversation opened up.

Our goal is not to rehash Davis’s past behavior; everyone deserves redemption. However, it would make it easier for those of us who want to work with him going forward if he could take responsibility for his past instead seeking to silence his accusers.

Many have stood up to support the woman who came forward, but sadly others have not. For women and feminists in our movement it was exceedingly demoralizing to watch people who call themselves progressives attack a woman who came forward or dismiss her allegations because of political allegiances. One blog even went so far as to try and discredit her by alleging that she had been in a pornography film, as if somehow this would cast doubt on her allegations.

We seek a kind of feminism that supports and empowers women to make informed choices about their lives, not the type that falls into the same pattern of erasing the voices of women of color and immigrant women. We are calling for a cutting-edge feminist movement that includes men in our strategy of ending violence against women, and a feminist movement that walks away from this tired dualism between “victims and perpetrators,” when we all know that these so-called perpetrators are often victims of violence themselves.

We are calling for restorative justice that bridges the divides of class and race and gender and makes us stronger to achieve the lives that we want and need. We seek a feminist movement that sees housing and economic justice and racial justice and gender justice as all part of the same movement.

The truth of the matter is that in our progressive movement here in San Francisco, there is still a prominence of straight white men who continue to believe that they are the sole arbitrators of what is or is not progressive in this city, who go after women of color in leadership with a ferocity that they do not for our progressive male counterparts, and who continue to excuse problematic behavior in ways that undermine us all.

So much has happened so quickly that it has been hard to orient ourselves and keep fighting for our rights and our communities. After the election, we call for a public conversation around what it means to be a third- or even fourth-wave feminist progressive that we can build our work around — where men are feminist and women of color leaders can actually get some support from the progressive left. Gabriel Haaland is a queer, transgender Labor feminist and domestic violence survivor. Jane Martin and Alicia Garza are queer, feminist community organizers in San Francisco’s working-class communities of color

GUEST OPINION: The Mirkarimi case — is this justice?


I appreciate that everyone is doing his or her best to dialogue on the very complicated, nuanced and difficult issue of domestic violence in a context where the press and politicians are doing their best to use the issue for their own agenda and making it a very polarizing issue in the media.

I know that many of us confront this issue at work, and  most encounter it in our own personal lives, so it is a very emotionally charged issue.  My heart goes out to Eliana Lopez, their son Theo, and yes, Ross.  As a practicing Buddhist, I find that people are often unwilling to forgive others, like Ross, because they are unwilling to forgive themselves for their own challenging impulses. 

We live in an emotionally and physically violent world, and demonizing Ross only externalizes the story, externalizes our own pain, denies our own impulses.  Anyone who thinks that he or she is perfect or above this seriously needs a mirror.  Bringing mindfulness to that is all that we can do and hope that we can have compassion for ourselves.  Truly, our inability to have compassion for him only exposes our inability to have compassion for ourselves.

Myrna Melgar, a survivor of domestic violence, wrote a very thoughtful piece for the SF Bay Guardian on restorative justice as an alternative to the criminal justice response to domestic violence, and if you get a chance, take a moment to read it.

For me, the main question she poses is:   “How did it come to be that a system that was intended to empower women has evolved into a system that disempowers them so completely?”  In short, when Ross grabbed her arm, it became a media/political frenzy that destroyed Eliana’s life.  Myrna posits that the increased criminalization on low-level, first offenses of domestic violence on this one immigrant woman, Eliana Lopez, meant that a long list of mostly men spent the next few months making decisions on her behalf without her input as she was treated as incompetent to make decisions.

Eliana never had a chance ever to find justice, to regain her power,  and Ross never really had the opportunity to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions, which is the goal of restorative justice.  For Ross to take 100 percent responsibility means not defending, not explaining, not evading.  Simply taking responsibility.  I haven’t seen Ross do this — but to be fair, he never had a chance.

I am a survivor of domestic violence as a child, and it has been painful to me to observe people using a family’s pain for their own political agendas and missing this opportunity to do things differently, There could have been a path where the powers that be could have acted with integrity towards this family, our city, and to all the survivors of domestic violence.  Instead, the whole situation was manipulated from beginning to end.

Honestly, no “side” has been perfect.  Those that are loyal to Ross seem unwilling to hear anything beyond how people are out to “get” him, and those that are against him, well, most of the resources against Ross are from a “side” that has all the social capital, resources, media,  and political power at their disposal which leaves me frustrated with those who are supposedly holding him accountable. 

It’s a disservice to survivors of domestic violence to be used a political pawns, and it’s a disservice to survivors of domestic violence for the media and governmental powers to be misused like this. 

As it relates to Ross being sheriff, it’s clear that the system for accountability has also broken down and no one trusts what is happening in the courts. And as one observer has written, “Are we considering the public punishment that has already been heaped on both Ross and Eliana? Was Mirkarimi’s act so vile that we don’t allow him a chance to attend domestic violence treatment and redeem himself before ruining his life?  I’m not defending domestic violence in any way, shape or form, but I do believe this situation has been badly politicized.”

It’s unfortunate.  It leaves me with little hope that justice will be served. I have long been a proponent of restorative justice, and now more than ever in my life, I see the power of taking full responsibility for my actions, for our actions.  I’m so sorry the road to healing and restoration was not taken in this case.


Gabriel Haaland is a survivor of domestic violence, and a queer, transfeminist man who sits on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

An open letter to Ed Lee


OPINION Dear Mr. Mayor,

During the next week you will be appointing the a supervisor for District 5, an area of the city that has been historically considered the most progressive part of one of the most progressive cities in the country. It will be a signature decision for you in the next year, and will reveal the tone of your administration. Will you be a consensus mayor — or will you carry on your predecessor’s fight with progressives?

You have many qualified choices, but there is probably only one on your list that a majority of progressives would consider a clear progressive choice: Christina Olague, president of the Planning Commission. There are some who have hesitations about her, but ironically those hesitations are based on her relationship to you and her support for your candidacy for mayor. I have to admit, as a supporter of progressive Supervisor John Avalos for mayor, I shared some disappointment that she didn’t support John.

I’m sure there’s intense pressure on you to choose a more moderate choice, and I’m sure there are from your perspective some valid points to that argument. That said, District 5 deserves progressive representation.

I am a Haight resident, and I ran for Supervisor in District 5 in 2004. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi came in first, I came in second, and Lisa Feldstein came in third. Both Lisa and I have spoken repeatedly about whether we would run next year, and we have even discussed running as a slate. Most political analysts think one of us would have a decent shot at winning — but I think both of us would support Christina, assuming that her votes continue to reflect her commitment to the progressive values of the district.

Christina not only supported you, she also supported Mirkarimi in 2004, and Matt Gonzalez when he ran for supervisor in 2000. She was appointed to the Planning Commission by Gonzalez and has been reappointed repeatedly by progressive supervisors to that commission. While her votes have not been perfect, by and large, her record is excellent; she has never succumbed to pressure, has listened well to all sides, and has ultimately done what she thought was right.

For example, she stood up for tenants’ rights when the landlord from Park Merced came to the Planning Commission to ask that 1,500 apartments be demolished, all of which were subject to the city’s rent control ordinance. She recognized the flaws in the landlord’s argument that a side agreement (negotiated without the local tenant groups involved) would prevent rent hikes and evictions. Olague was on the right side of history on the Park Merced deal, and has a long record of building tenant and senior tenant power. That’s the kind of leadership we need for District 5, an area comprised of primarily renters. I believe Olague will be a supervisor tenants can trust.

I can’t guarantee that all progressives will stand down if Olague gets the seat. The ego game is what it is. You have learned that from politics, I’m sure. But I think most progressive institutions and progressive activists will see her appointment as a victory and will support her candidacy for Supervisor next fall, as they should if she shows that her votes reflect the trends and values of District 5.

With Christina Olague, you have a win-win. You appoint a supervisor who reflects the progressive values of the district and who is also electable in November. 

Gabriel Haaland is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an LGBT labor and tenant activist.

A case for Avalos, Yee and Dufty


OPINION Like all of us, SEIU 1021 can take three dates to the prom when it comes to voting for mayor, but narrowing it down in a field of so many candidates was still challenging. After a month-long process, we arrived at a dual endorsement of Supervisor John Avalos and State Senator Leland Yee for first and second choice, and Supervisor Bevan Dufty for our third choice.

It’s a diverse slate, and the choices are representative of the constituencies, perspectives and priorities in our membership.

Yee’s record on labor issues in Sacramento has been impeccable, and he has long been a staunch supporter of our union, so endorsing him was a no-brainer. The Guardian asked me personally, as I am also a transgender activist, how I could support Leland after his vote against transgender health benefits. Frankly, I was disappointed in how my response was framed.

Leland approached transgender activists a number of years ago and apologized for his vote. Instead of denying or rationalizing like other politicians might do, he had the courage to come to a community meeting of transgender activists, stand in front of us, admit he was wrong, and apologize. For people to continue to attack an individual for having a true change of heart is very discouraging. We would never make any advancement of our rights if we continued to shun those who have come to understand and support the transgender fight for equality. In fact, Yee’s support was critical to the collective effort to save Lyon-Martin, a clinic that is a key service provider for trans folks, after it almost closed earlier this year.

That’s why so many in the transgender community now support Yee so strongly and why he has become an even closer, tested ally through this experience.

SEIU 1021 has always had a very close relationship with John Avalos. Avalos has been a steadfast supporter of crucial social and health- care services, and has been a leader in creating needed progressive revenue measures. But most importantly, John understands how essential jobs are for lifting people out of poverty and stimulating the local economy for everyone in San Francisco.

Last year, he introduced a Local Hire ordinance that is becoming a real jobs generator in our city and a national model. Like many of our members when they first started working for the city, workers hired under the Local Hire ordinance may for the first time have a living-wage job with benefits.

And while some in labor have been critical of this legislation — in fact, it cost him the endorsement of the San Francisco Labor Council — that’s a short-sighted criticism.

As more people are employed in San Francisco with living wage jobs, they spend money in San Francisco, boosting tax revenues and in turn creating more jobs across the city. Moreover, this visionary legislation has other benefits — workers coming from low-income communities bring a new found pride in and community spirit to what could be otherwise economically depressed areas. That’s why SEIU 1021 supports Avalos, and why I am proud to endorse him as well.

Rounding out SEIU’s endorsements in this campaign is former Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Dufty has a history of supporting preserving city services. Some have argued that Dufty can’t handle downtown pressure, and yet, Dufty has consistently supported public power, took a stance against Sit-Lie despite intense pressure, and several years ago, at a critical juncture for Tom Ammiano’s signature health care legislation, Healthy San Francisco, he didn’t blink when we called on him to be our 8th vote. In fact, he committed to the bill, unequivocally, and called on other supervisors, like Fiona Ma, to say it was time. She immediately co-sponsored and eventually it was a unanimous 11-0 vote.

For labor and progressives, Ammiano’s Healthy San Francisco legislation was the single most important piece of legislation of the last decade. And while history has been rewritten, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom now takes credit for the legislation, then-Mayor Newsom did not come on board until after Dufty declared his support, and as the 8th supporter, created a veto-proof majority.

Each of these candidates have shown their capacity to grow and transform as leaders making them the best choices for progressive labor, and we believe for the San Francisco. Whatever you do, you have three votes, make them count. 

Gabriel Haaland is a transgender labor activist and the SEIU 1021 San Francisco political coordinator.


Should Lyon-Martin be saved?


OPINION Last month, when the startling news broke that Lyon-Martin Health Services, a community health clinic that serves primarily queer women and transgender people, was about to close its doors forever, the community rose up even before the official announcement was made.

Within hours of first hearing the news, more than 150 clients, former clients, and members of the community gathered at an emergency town hall meeting to fight to save the clinic. People testified about what Lyon-Martin had meant to their health. Many expressed fears it would close and anger that they hadn’t known the clinic was in trouble.

To their credit, two members of the board of directors and interim Executive Director Dr. Dawn Stacy Harbatkin came to the meeting to answer questions from the community. This powerful meeting transformed and dramatically altered the outcome. In response to the opposition, the board backed off closing the center for at least a month and promised the community that there would be at least a month to find ways to save the clinic.

However, the board members also explained that the clinic was in serious trouble and needed to raise more than $500,000 to stay open. By the end of the meeting, a "Save Lyon Martin" coalition was born.

Within a week, more than 700 community members came to a fundraiser that raised more than $60,000, and within a month, more than $300,000 had been raised.

But at the same time, some have asked: should we save Lyon-Martin?

It’s a legitimate question. Over the past two years Lyon-Martin expanded its services, almost doubling its staff and patient load. However, the management failed to build the infrastructure to accommodate these changes. One of the known factors that led to the current situation was Lyon-Martin’s inability to stay current with its Medi-Cal billing, and there was a significant loss in revenue as a result. A substantial amount of debt is owed to the IRS and a long-term bank loan. Given the financial problems, some say, we should close the clinic; other community health clinics could simply incorporate the 3,500 patients served by Lyon-Martin.

While it’s true that the financial issues are troubling, and that hard questions need to be answered, dumping 3,500 patients into a public health system that has been cut to the bone over the last few years would be a disaster in San Francisco. The clinics that serve queer and transgender people are already stretched to the limit. No other place in the city has the capacity and culturally competency to serve this population.

Lyon-Martin has taken on the mission of caring for a group of low-income, mostly uninsured patients who have rarely, if ever, gotten culturally competent care. Almost 90 percent of Lyon-Martin patients are uninsured; 87 percent have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line; 17 percent are homeless; 33 percent are people of color.

As a transgender person who has received poor and even hostile treatment by a health care provider, it doesn’t surprise me that in a recent survey more than 50 percent of transgender individuals reported that they have had to teach their health care providers about transgender health care. More than half of lesbians, bisexual, or transgender people report that they avoid health care for fear of discrimination.

In this context, closing Lyon-Martin is simply not an option.

We have many questions about how Lyon-Martin got into this situation and what needs to be done to avoid it happening again. We want the community to have stronger oversight over this important resource. We want people held accountable. But most of all, we want to ensure that we continue to have access to the excellent care that Lyon-Martin has provided to so many of us.

On March 2 at 4 p.m. at the Budget Committee of the Board of Supervisors, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi will be holding a hearing addressing these questions. We hope you can join us.

Gabriel Haaland is a member of the Save Lyon-Martin Health Coalition, and a former transgender client of Lyon-Martin.

The. Rent. Is. Too. Damn. High!



As continued reports of unprecedented, record-breaking amounts of cash from corporate real estate developers and big landlords flood the Board of Supervisor races, the damaging impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is becoming more and more clear. But even worse, Thomas J. Coates, a far-right extremist Republican real estate developer and landlord, is trying to buy the Board of Supervisors so that he can end rent control. Last week, Coates made the largest donation to supervisors races in the 150-year history of San Francisco.

Who is Coates? He spent more than $1 million on Proposition 98 in 2008 trying to repeal rent control statewide. He was the largest single contributor to that campaign, which was so extreme that even Gov. Schwarzenegger and former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson opposed it. Coates gave the maximum contribution allowed by law to George Bush and Dick Cheney’s campaign and funded GOP candidates across the country. Now he’s spending more than $200,000 to elect anti rent control San Francisco supervisors: Mark Ferrell in District 2, Theresa Sparks in District 6, Scott Wiener in District 8, and Steve Moss in District 10.

With this one donation, the stakes in this election for every San Franciscan — especially renters and progressives — became even higher. By spending his fortune here, Thomas Coates hopes to erode San Francisco’s strong rent control laws by electing supervisors who are less sympathetic to renters. Through influencing the election of the supervisors, he also influences the selection of the interim mayor (since the supervisors will choose the next mayor by a majority vote if Gavin Newsom is elected lieutenant governor), which would result in an anti rent control mayor.

To make matters worse, workers and their families are already on the defense fighting Jeff Adachi’s anti-labor ballot initiative proposal (Proposition B), which would make city workers pay huge increases in their health care coverage. Adachi is mischaracterizing his initiative as pension reform even though the bulk of the cuts will come from forcing low-wage workers to pay for their children’s health care.

Wall Street speculators crashed the stock market, causing workers’ pension funds to lose billions and wiping out retirement savings. The losses require local and state governments to spend more to keep the funds solvent. So who do Gov. Schwarzenegger, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, and Adachi blame? The victims: the workers.

Renters and city workers aren’t the only ones under attack. Newsom’s cynical sit/lie initiative (Proposition L) demonizes young homeless kids. Many of these youth are queers who ran away to San Francisco because it is a queer haven, and others are abused kids who left home because it wasn’t safe. If Prop. L passes, for 12 hours a day these kids will be criminalized if they sit or lie on the sidewalk.

All this in one of the most progressive cities in America? If we are under attack from conservatives in San Francisco on some of the most fundamental issues of our city, it’s no wonder the Tea Party is raging in the rest of the country.

Now more than ever we need labor, progressives, and renters to come together to fight back by voting Tuesday, Nov. 2. Harvey Milk once said, “Give ’em hope.” Show us that hope on Election Day by voting for progressive supervisors, rejecting Adachi’s so-called pension reform, and opposing the so-called sit/lie ordinance. Remember to vote and vote for Debra Walker in District 6, Rafael Mandelman in District 8, No on B, No on K, No on L, and Yes on J and N.

Gabriel Haaland is a local queer labor activist.



Why is Pelosi killing ENDA?


OPINION Why is the Congressmember from the gayest city in America blocking legislation that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers from workplace discrimination? That’s the question LGBT workers across the country are asking, and why LGBT workers picketed her office in the Federal Building and delivered a letter demanding that she not kill the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi repeatedly promised that she would schedule a vote on the law, but repeatedly broke these promises.

A 2006 study by the Guardian and Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year, only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly 9 percent have no source of income.

Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area. More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination. If this is true in San Francisco, imagine the figures in less queer-friendly towns.

A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.

Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.

In a few weeks, Congress will finish its legislative business for the year so members can return to their districts to run for reelection. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-San Mateo) announced to a stunned crowd that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session but she doesn’t think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage.

That’s right, at this moment, members of Congress are planning on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs — while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness, it’s challenging to believe that Pelosi fears a backlash from the voters.

That said, it’s fair to say that Pelosi may get a backlash from LGBT voters if she continues to block ENDA from a vote. The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it; the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that the House speaker stop blocking ENDA and schedule a vote.

Gabriel Haaland is a member of Pride at Work.


Do the right thing, Dianne


OPINION At the end of World War II, approximately 36 percent of American workers belonged to a union. Today that number has shrunk to about 12 percent, lagging behind the world’s other industrial democracies. But now, with a Democratic president in office, we have a realistic chance of enacting the most significant piece of labor legislation in decades, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect the right of workers to organize into a union.

The opposition, of course, is well organized and well funded. Opponents will spend more than $200 million to defeat the bill in the Senate. They will argue that EFCA is just a special interest bill that helps big labor. But the truth is that the legislation should be part of the long-term economic recovery plan and is key to rebuilding the middle class.

In 1980, average CEO pay was 42 times that of the average blue-collar worker. By 2006, CEO pay had grown to 364 times the average blue collar worker’s pay. A survey of median weekly earnings in 2007 revealed that union workers make 30 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, and are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage than other workers.

The key EFCA reform, and the one that has generated the most controversy, is called “card-check.” Under EFCA, if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of employees have signed written authorization forms designating the union as their collective bargaining representative, the union is certified.

Opponents of card-check often argue, erroneously, that EFCA will deprive workers of their right to a so-called secret ballot. In fact, EFCA preserves both options, but it places the choice in the hands of workers, not employers. Moreover, the history of these “secret ballot” elections shows that they are often anything but democratic. Too often employers use their power over unorganized employees to intimidate them into voting against the union. Such documented employer tactics have included mandatory attendance at antiunion meetings, one-on-one meetings, threats to close the business if the union wins the vote, and harassing or even firing workers engaged in organizing activity.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has an 87 percent lifetime voting record from the AFL-CIO and has co-sponsored EFCA in the past. But now, with EFCA finally within reach, she has announced that she is looking for a “less divisive” option.

Say it isn’t so, Senator.

For many years progressive activists have had concerns about Feinstein, even going as far as to seek her censure at a state Democratic convention two years ago. In 2007, the party leadership reminded the activists that although she may stray occasionally, Feinstein is really a good Democrat who shares our basic values and commitments. There was no censure.

But workers’ rights is no side-issue in our Democratic Party. Economic justice is the issue. This is a moment of truth for Feinstein — and all of us who are her constituents have an obligation to help her get to the right answer.

On April 28 at 7 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, the SF Labor Council, Pride at Work, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club are sponsoring a community briefing on our campaign to urge Feinstein to support working people. Join us. *

Robert Haaland is the co-chair, SF Pride at Work. Rafael Mandelman is president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.


Sensational trans-bashing at SF Weekly


OPINION SF Weekly published an article Nov. 26 with the headline "Border Crossers." The subhead explained the thesis: "Long rap sheet? No problem. Transgender Latina hookers in SF are successfully fighting deportation by asking for asylum."

The title successfully encapsulates the Jerry Springer-like journalism masquerading as a feature article in an alternative weekly in San Francisco. While I would normally just dismiss this as another example of how SF Weekly is turning into the National Enquirer, the article is important in that it reveals the intense discrimination transgender immigrant women who do sex work face in San Francisco — and unfortunately, quite possibly jeopardizes an incredibly essential legal protection.

The writer, Lauren Smiley, apparently believes she has unearthed a shocking secret: that transgender women may receive asylum in the United States based on intense discrimination in their home countries. So trans immigrants can avoid deportation even when they have been arrested for prostitution and have rap sheets.

As Smiley notes, immigration judges and asylum officers have the discretion to grant asylum when a transgender woman presents a showing of a well-founded fear of persecution based on gender identity. Even Smiley admits that transgender women face violence and intense discrimination in their home countries; however, what Smiley finds the most egregious is that some small subset of the asylum-seeking women have been prosecuted for sex work.

What Smiley single-mindedly ignores is the astonishing statistics that show an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent for transgender women of color, and perhaps even higher statistics for undocumented women in San Francisco. Instead of pointing to the well-documented obstacles transgender women face in employment, Smiley interviews one transgender woman who was able to get a job as evidence that transgender women really do not have to be "hookers" to survive. (Yes, she really did use the word "hookers".)

Without any context or analysis, Smiley quoted Dan Stein, president of the "Federation for American Immigration Reform" (FAIR) as a credible critic of the practice of granting asylum to immigrant transgender women. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently officially designated FAIR as a hate group, but nowhere in her article does Smiley mention that the organization is considered one of the least trustworthy, if not laughable, sources for information on immigration.

What concerns me most is not the cheapness of the shot, but rather that — like so much sensationalist journalism — a piece like this gives fuel to right-wing activists like FAIR. Even Smiley notes that the Republican Party has included in its platform an end to the practice that has literally saved many lives.

What is even more astounding is that last year, Smiley received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for an article about how doctors were using a new treatment for transgender children so that they wouldn’t develop into their biological sex until after puberty — which would give those kids the choice to transition later.

Yet in the Nov. 26 piece, when describing the landmark case of Geovanni Hernandez-Montiel, who was the first to get asylum based on gender identity, this award-winning writer frequently refers to Giovanni using the male pronoun "he." While I would not expect most journalists to give a nuanced perspective on Giovanni’s gender identity, I do expect a journalist who has received an award from an LGBT media watchdog group to allow for a more fluid understanding of Giovanni’s gender. I called Smiley and she acknowledged that she should have better described FAIR. When I asked her about the other problems, she simply said I should write a letter to SF Weekly.

In San Francisco, can’t we expect and demand better?

Robert Haaland is co-chair of SF Pride at Work, a LGBT labor organization. Alexandra Byerly is program coordinator, EL-LA Program Para Trans-Latinas. Nikki Calma is a member of the Commission of the Status of Women. Cecilia Chung is chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission

The Chronicle manufactures a crisis


OPINION “Illegal Alien.” “Drug-dealing illegal immigrant youth.” “Criminal youth.”

How many times have these dehumanizing words appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in the last few months? Through unbalanced and sensationalist coverage of this handful of youth, the Chronicle is manufacturing a crisis in San Francisco. Writers like right-wing Chronicle columnist Cinnamon Stillwell and others are creating a mob mentality that is driving city policy and aims to distort and gut the intent of the Sanctuary City laws, which exist to preserve public safety in face of the challenging consequences of globalization.

Globalization has shown us that our world is a web of dynamic relationships. The consequences of the economic decisions made by governing bodies around the world include both the facilitation of movement for goods and services across national borders and the increased policing when that movement involves people; access to inexpensive products due to exploitative labor practices; and the exacerbation of global poverty, a form of systemic violence.

As we locally tackle the challenges imposed on us, we need to speak out against fearmongering journalism. Demonizing youth will not bring justice to families who have experienced loss from the actions of documented (or undocumented) individuals. That pain is real and cries out for redress. Individuals are accountable for their actions. While the Juvenile Courts are not perfect, they are where minors accused of committing crimes are held accountable.

The city needs to return authority over these children to the appropriate courts, which are legally mandated to consider the circumstances of each minor on a case-by-case basis to make a ruling, which may include placement in foster care, in a group home, release to a local family, or return to a family out of the country — and if the young person is found guilty of a felony, a transfer to federal immigration officials.

The unhappy reality is that there are undocumented, unaccompanied children in our community who resort to drug sales or other unsafe, illegal activities to survive and help support their families. The way in which queer youth seek sanctuary here from homophobic families parallels the struggles for survival of undocumented youth. The LGBTQ community recognizes our shared everyday struggle with immigrants, our right to exist in healthy, loving families, and as individuals with a healthy sense of self and dignity, even when those rights come under assault through the acts of individual, societal, and governmental bigotry, discrimination, and intervention.

The LGBTQ community recognizes that true justice requires that we transform social conditions. We call on all San Franciscans to stick to the ideals that underlie the democracy we so cherish, and call on our city officials to reassert our commitment to Sanctuary City and human rights.

Implementing the municipal ID program is a positive step. Any delays in its implementation undermine the public safety goals our city is attempting to achieve. As we seek to establish order in this mess — brought about through the criminalization of people’s movements — let’s stick to our principles, with the fullest regard for equal rights and due process for all of our youth.

Robert Haaland is a labor organizer with Pride at Work. Sofia Lee Morales works with the Queer Youth Organizing Project.


McGoldrick’s privatization betrayal


OPINION This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Most politicians break promises. That’s the nature of politics. But when someone signs a pledge — twice — saying he won’t privatize city services, when he holds himself out as a champion of anti-privatization and then goes directly against that stand —well, it kind of makes you wonder.

That politician is San Francisco Sup. Jake McGoldrick. In the past, he stood against privatizing services. He has fought for golf courses, for the Internet; heck, he even fought for horses when Mayor Gavin Newsom threatened to privatize the stables. During the Service Employees International Union endorsement process, he signed a pledge that he would not privatize work currently done by city workers. We endorsed him and even fought against the effort to recall him. But when the rubber hit the road for people, he screeched out of there.

Newsom has proposed contracting out the work of the Institutional Police, a group of workers represented by SEIU Local 1021. Institutional police officers work primarily at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals, but they also provide security at health clinics throughout the city. That security — not only for the workers, but for the community that these institutions serve as well — might soon be gone.

If you have ever been in SF General’s emergency room during a violent incident, you know exactly how bad a decision that would be. A nurse who met with McGoldrick described how bad it got on her shift one night. A man who had been shot was being transported to the ER, and the shooter was following closely behind, hoping to finish off the job. When the victim and assailant pulled up to General, the institutional police were there waiting with guns drawn. They disarmed the shooter and arrested him.

The nurse who told this story looked McGoldrick squarely in the eye and told him that the community would know immediately when the ER was staffed by private security officers, and that would endanger the workers and the patients there.

Even the union that represents the private security officers — whose members would get the jobs — told McGoldrick the work should remain with the institutional police.

Training for private security officers is minimal and inconsistent. Turnover is rapid. When private security officers are transferred to new buildings, they’re often not trained on its specific emergency procedures. There is little oversight to enforce existing state training requirements.

This shouldn’t be about money. A couple of weeks ago, during public hearings on the budget, the Controller’s Office reported on the exponential growth of six-figure salaried executive positions in the past few years; 55 new management jobs were created this year alone. McGoldrick, who heads the Budget and Finance Committee, could easily have moved some of that money around, as SEIU 1021 advocated, rather than leave the city’s health care facilities at risk. But he didn’t.

Unfortunately, it only takes one bad incident to expose the false "savings" of contracting out security to inexperienced and less-trained guards. Six supervisors appear to agree. What happened to Jake McGoldrick?

Robert Haaland

Labor activist Robert Haaland works for SEIU Local 1021.

Beyond the budget spin


OPINION Local government is frozen. The mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors have been engaged in open warfare for months. This week, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that in order to balance San Francisco’s budget, city services and community-based organizations will have to undergo draconian cuts.

In a preemptive move against embarrassing protests, the mayor’s press office did not reveal the location of the annual budget presentation to the news media until late Friday afternoon. Even the supervisors, who will be debating and voting on the budget during the month of June, were left in the dark until then.

While the mayor didn’t blame city workers for the financial crisis, he did suggest that Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents the low-wage, frontline, service-providing city workers, should "help out."

Well, we have. SEIU members stepped up to "help out" in fiscal years 2003–04 and 2004–05 by agreeing to wage freezes and self-funding our pensions. All the recent midyear cuts were in public health agencies and among SEIU-represented nonprofits.

Most recently we stepped up by helping draft and vigorously campaigning to pass Proposition B, which freezes city workers wages for two years and tightens eligibility for retiree health care benefits in exchange for a modest increase in city pension benefits.

The mayor’s budget director repeatedly has said that this is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Talk about spin.

Moreover, in his June 2 budget presentation, the mayor made no mention of raising revenue as an answer to our fiscal problems. You could almost hear Gov. Schwarzenegger’s voice as Newsom presented a slash-services budget with a "no-new-taxes" slogan waiting in the wings for his next campaign.

Everyone knows it’s expensive to live in San Francisco. Paying city employees a wage that allows them to stay in the community they serve isn’t a budget "problem." It ought to be a basic part of what City Hall does and cares about. And if that means looking at bringing in new sources of money, we should have that conversation.

We believe there are various revenue sources that make more sense to explore than some of these service cuts, including a real estate transfer tax increase for high-level properties.

Fortunately, the mayor’s proposal is just a starting point. Soon we will be proposing specific alternatives.

Toward that end, the San Francisco Human Services Network and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth have organized a citywide forum on the mayor’s proposed budget cuts. SEIU 1021 is cosponsoring this event. The San Francisco budget and revenue town-hall meeting will be held June 9 from 2-4 p.m. in the San Francisco Main Library’s Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin (at Grove)

Don’t get angry. Get organized.

Robert Haaland

Robert Haaland is a longtime San Francisco activist who works for Local 1021.

We stand with Carole Migden


OPINION As longtime fans of the Guardian and as allies in almost every fight, including the struggles for public power, affordable housing, people-focused land use policy, and clean and open government, we do not like finding ourselves on the opposite side of an issue as important as this year’s state Senate race. Respectfully, we must say that we believe the Guardian‘s failure to endorse Carole Migden in that race was a colossal mistake — not unlike the decision to endorse Angela Alioto over Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez for mayor in 2003.

Both Leno and Migden are good votes in Sacramento. But the simple reality is that Carole Migden has been there for the local left in ways that make her the only choice for progressives willing to take on the establishment. Certainly Migden has made herself vulnerable to political attacks. Her failure to retain a professional treasurer for her campaign finance filings was clearly an error of judgment. But for us, none of this outweighs her incredible record of achievement in Sacramento or her far more reliable support of progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco.

Guardian readers should by now be familiar with Migden’s long record in Sacramento: the California Clean Water Act, saving the Headwaters Forest, community choice aggregation (CCA), a series of domestic partnership laws that have established a viable alternative to marriage in California while setting the stage for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, a remarkable package of foster care reforms, and cosmetics safety legislation.

But it is Migden’s role locally that makes her so important to San Francisco progressives. Migden is the only candidate in the race who has been there for progressives in difficult political battles. As candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee, we are grateful that the Guardian endorsed our entire slate. But we wonder if the Guardian considered the fact that the vast majority (indeed, almost unanimous) of Hope Slate candidates are Migden supporters, because they are the leading progressive candidates to retain a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors in November. It is not coincidental.

Few politicians who have risen as high in the establishment food chain as Carole Migden have done so retaining a willingness to fight for the underdog. Guardian readers should be familiar with the litany: she supported Aaron Peskin and Jake McGoldrick in 2000; reached out to Chris Daly soon thereafter and stood strongly with him against subsequent challenges; never, ever supported Gavin Newsom; attended the Progressive Convention; and financed progressive campaigns from the Affordable Housing Bond to Muni reform.

Migden is a scrappy street fighter who helps other scrappy street fighters. As one of the very first queers and one of the first women to take political power at these levels, she had to be. Someday progressive politics may not need scrappy street fighters (and someday maybe women will be better represented in public office) — but not yet.

We are proud to stand with Carole Migden, as she has stood with us. She is the candidate in this race who we can count on to fight when it really counts.

Bill Barnes, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Eric Mar, Rafael Mandelman, Eric Quezada, and Debra Walker

The writers are Hope Slate candidates for the DCCC.

Problems with Peskin’s Muni plan


OPINION Last week the Board of Supervisors received a proposed charter amendment that takes a misguided stab at the much-needed reform of the Municipal Transit Agency, which oversees Muni. In undertaking reforms we all agree are needed for the MTA to better serve our city, the supervisors should consider the Hippocratic oath required of doctors: “First, do no harm.”

Our union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents almost a thousand MTA workers, has enormous respect for the bill’s sponsor, board president Aaron Peskin. We know that Peskin strongly supports workers’ rights and has always stood for openness, transparency, and accountability in government. This initiative, however, undermines everything that he and his board colleagues stand for, and we urge progressives to oppose it.

Most important, the initiative is profoundly undemocratic and would transfer oversight from an elected body to an appointed one. An MTA that no longer had to answer to our elected representatives would be a less accountable and less transparent board.

Downgrading elected oversight into appointive power resting in the hands of one person — the mayor — is not reform but a political power grab. Commissioners would be well aware that they might not be reappointed if they voted too independently of the mayor’s preferences.

The initiative would present additional risks for the abuse of power in local government by allowing MTA to approve its own contracts. This is a dangerous conflict of interest that would create more opportunities for problems, not reform.

The amendment furthermore would undermine workplace protections by increasing the number of nonunion workers from the current 1.5 percent to a whopping 10 percent. Working people would serve at the pleasure of an unelected board and lose their right to collective bargaining. Seven years ago many members of the Board of Supervisors and progressives strongly opposed a nonunion special assistant position in Mayor Willie Brown’s office. The board converted this position to a civil service job because of the perception of patronage and corruption. The current charter amendment exhumes that political cadaver while hiding behind the fig leaf of flexibility — which in this case is a code word for the power to fire people without just cause or due process, or for political expediency.

On one point we agree with this charter amendment: it’s true that the MTA needs more money to serve our residents the way it should, and this amendment would take $26 million from the General Fund and transfer it to the MTA budget. But we do not believe we should be raiding the General Fund without carefully considering the possible impact.

This is a charter amendment and cannot be easily undone. If it turns out to be a disaster, as we believe it will, San Francisco will find itself in a very dire situation without a timely remedy.

SEIU Local 1021 strongly opposes this charter amendment unless it undergoes major revisions. Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s competing initiative, by contrast, offers us a path that is much more democratic, promotes accountability and transparency in government, and protects the rights of working families. We agree that reform is needed, but if passed, Peskin’s initiative will create many more problems than it purports to solve. *

Damita Davis-Howard and Robert Haaland

Damita Davis-Howard is president of SEIU Local 1021; Robert Haaland is San Francisco political coordinator for the union.