The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to add gender identity and expression to the county's non-discrimination policy.
The effort, pushed by the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and Service Employees International Union of Arizona, was in the works for five months.
During the May discussions for the new Memorandum of Understanding—an annual meeting process between SEIU Arizona (the union that bargains on behalf of county workers) members and leaders, and Pima county management—the advocacy groups presented the board with several proposals to increase protections for transgender workers, as well as to start offering paid parental leave, and other issues affecting county employees.
"It means that no person can be denied employment or a promotion, or otherwise be discriminated against, because someone else doesn't think they look the way they are 'supposed' to, look or act in a manner they are 'supposed' to act...that is what gender identity and expression are about," Abby Jensen, vice president and general counsel for SAGA, and an assistant Pima County public defender, told the Weekly. "This protection is not just for transgender people. It protects everyone from being discriminated against."
The groups also had private meetings with the supervisors, and Jensen says it was a grand success to have all of them come on board. Some, such as Supervisor Ally Miller, even wondered why the county didn't offer these gender identity and expression protections before.
This is a big win, but the next major step is to have the county stop excluding transition-related coverage from its healthcare's policy.
Yesterday's vote also opened up the conversation to eventually offer county employees paid parental leave. The board said it would vote on that issue in January.
“Today was a victory for Pima County, working people, and taxpayers” said a statement by Art Mendoza, president of SEIU Arizona. “This MoU makes the county more attractive to the best and brightest potential employees and helps to retain the quality employees we already have. Our union and our allies look forward to working with Pima County to implement policies that support working families like paid parental leave and are thrilled we could win new protections for transgender employees in our community.”