Coming Out at Work and the Fight for Equality

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  January 27, 2015

Coming Out at Work and the Fight for Equality Rallying for gay marriage rights are, from left, Tom Privitere, vice president; Bess Watts and her wife, Anne Tischer; and Dawn Lepard, the Pride at Work secretary.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered at work can be one of the most difficult choices a person can make. Once it is done, it can never be undone and word travels fast – so be prepared when you do. When it goes right, it feels wonderful to be able to be yourself and not be hidden away in a closet.

AFSCME and the AFL-CIO advocate for safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers, especially those who are often left behind. The AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work initiative plays an important role in improving the lives of LGBTQ working families, says Bess Watts, a library assistant from Monroe Community College near here who leads the local Pride at Work chapter.

“Pride at Work gives our members an opportunity to be who they are both at home and at work,” said Watts. “The members in the Rochester Finger Lakes chapter have worked so hard to gain the respect as an active member of the labor community. It’s been our philosophy that all issues affecting workers are issues for all workers.”

As New York state considered whether or not to allow for same sex marriage, Bess Watts and her chapter took to the streets, building lasting relationships and overcoming obstacles to garner the support of every major union, including police and fire, to force reluctant legislators to vote for equality. Their experience taking on their issues directly taught them that by working together, no obstacle was too great.

In recognition of their hard work, the AFL-CIO Rochester Finger Lakes Pride at Work chapter won the Pride at Work Constituency Group Award at the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference on Jan. 18, 2015. “We were proud to receive the award from the AFL-CIO. Our members earned it through their hard work and advocacy,” Watts said.

“This is our chapter,” Watts emphasized. “We have worked so hard and come so far, but there is a lot of work left to do.” Watts prefers to defer the credit for the chapter’s success to her members, but it’s clear that her commitment to equality is deep rooted. “I served my country but had to leave because I could not serve in dignity,” Watts said of her military service.

“Leaders like Bess Watts, in her bravery and unrelenting resolve to advance the rights of all workers, especially those of the LGBTQ community, are an inspiration to me personally,” said CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000 Pres. Danny Donohue, also an International vice president. “Together, we will continue to create safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”

For more information about Pride at Work go to:


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