Equality New York is excited to appoint a new chair to our Board of Directors. Teri Wilhelm has been on the board of directors for the last two years and will step up to help lead the board.
How did you get involved in Equality New York?
I have been involved with activism and advocacy for much of my life, though, mostly in Union leadership, bargaining and protecting workers’ rights, and strike-line support with some anti-war protesting early on. However, when working in academia and beginning my transition, I became active with student groups and lectured on my experiences as a transgender person. I began to self-educate, train, and then volunteer with the Empire Pride Agenda to help pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). Soon after, I was asked to join the GLSEN-New York Capital Region/Upstate Chapter board, quickly becoming co-chair and their first public policy coordinator. I was quite proud of being GLSEN’s first in the nation trans-woman, co-chair and soon began to take the stage promoting transgender rights and equitable treatment under the law and in society. After the Empire Pride Agenda abruptly ceased operations in late 2015, leaving GENDA without a lead organization, I searched for a vehicle to continue my efforts for its passage and GLSEN-NYCR afforded that possibility. When NYSUT stepped in to support an advocacy day with the newly formed Equality New York (EQNY), it was an easy fit with the United Teachers and where I briefly met the founder of Equality New York, Gabriel Blau. In the following years when NYTAG became the lead organization, I began to work more closely with Amanda Babine who later became the first executive director of Equality New York. With barely a respite after stepping down from GLSEN, I couldn’t help but follow this powerhouse leader and soon joined the EQNY board of directors.
What special initiatives will you focus on during your time as chair at Equality New York?
We make gains, though, truthfully, the best quality of any Union leader is the ability to hold the line and never cede those gains. Hence, I plan to use my abilities and experience as a Union activist to keep and protect LBGTQI rights in New York. My focus will be on youth and protections for students. Every New York education environment must be equitable, safe, and free from torment, trauma, and violence, and have an active student group centered on gender and sexualities with a trained advisor. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over and on an upswing in some communities. Having experienced a sibling stricken and stigmatized by the HIV virus, and witnessing far too many lose their battles, I plan to keep and expand support for the “End The Epidemic” campaign and efforts to treat, prevent and respond to this and the many health challenges ahead. Our prisons and jails must end the ill-treatment and persecution of our trans and LGBQI siblings in all forms. Also, EQNY must be a leader in the fight for body autonomy, to keep the filth of politics and religious fanaticism out of our reproductive choices and healthcare decisions for ourselves and our children. But, most of all, our community needs to coalesce, organize, and realize its true potential as a political force. This national reactionary trend is an organized threat to our rights and will not stop at the state line. Every LGBTQI New Yorker should see this with clear eyes and become a member.
Where do you see Equality New York in 10 years?
Going forward, Equality New York remains well-poised and committed to its mission and is more than willing to unite and amplify the social and political voices of New York’s LGBTQI communities. I see the growth potential as always expanding, not only in membership or measurable business terms but as a heavy, unstoppable leader in the state and national progressive thought with the right of every voice to be heard, protected, and nurtured. I see the organization always continuing its journey to effectively educate youth, train activists, and develop successful LGBTQIA political candidates.
What is your favorite part of New York State and why?
Let’s see… New York is beautiful, especially in summer; however, the Adirondacks and Catskills have been home for much of my life so the mountains and lakes must be my favorite. On the other hand, New York City excites me. For the short while I lived there and visited, I still feel its vastness, diversity, and power. New York is unique. Its architecture, art, and culture are as varied and diverse as the people. We are deep thinkers and strong individuals.
When you’re not fighting on behalf of LGBTQI New Yorkers, how do you like to spend your time?
I often say that my pencil poked mom’s womb when it was time to leave, so one can say much of my free time is spent drawing, painting, and writing. However, I also love a good movie, cooking complicated dishes, and being a musician. I became a professional bassplayer and began studio work at age fifteen. A guitar is always kept nearby and I practice on a six-string or bass every day. And, it seems simple, I love my friends. I love making new friends and being a good friend.