Lesbian Labor Leader Comes Out, Carefully, to Applause

President of United Federation of Teachers comes out at Empire State Pride

Randi Weingarten, president of the powerful United Federation of Teachers union, made her most public statements to date about her sexual orientation when she spoke at the Fall Dinner sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda on Oct 11. The statewide LGBT advocacy organization presented the lesbian labor leader with its Douglas W. Jones Award for community service during the event, which drew nearly 1,000 attendees to the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers in Midtown on what, coincidentally or not, was also recognized as National Coming Out Day.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced Weingarten, a former attorney and history teacher whose union represents some 150,000 active and retired educators in the New York City public school system. The lesbian elected official called her “one of the few women and few LGBT people who are leading our labor movement.”

During her acceptance speech, Weingarten recounted her opposition a few years ago to a suggestion that the state teachers’ union, NYSUT, avoid taking a stand against the federal government’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. “At that time,” she said followed by applause, “my sexual orientation was not as common knowledge as it may be tonight.”

That understated announcement, delivered to a predominantly gay audience, immediately sparked questions about whether Weingarten had actually “come out” in the unambiguous sense of admissions such as, “Yep, I’m gay,” by comedian Ellen DeGeneres in 1994, for example.

When asked by GO at the conclusion of the night whether her speech should be considered a coming out, Weingarten, whose sexual orientation has long been known by colleagues and friends, replied, “I know this might be disappointing, but…not really.” She cited her natural tendency to shun talk about her private life, including her relationship with her partner, psychotherapist Liz Margolies, except on occasions when she believes the information can make a positive impact. Ultimately, she said, “It wasn’t a coming out, but it was also a very public self-acknowledgement.”

Speaker Quinn echoed that sentiment and expressed support for her labor ally. “I don’t think there’s necessarily this one magic moment,” she told GO, adding, “Randi, like all of us, has been on a personal journey. And tonight I think was a significant moment in that journey and I was incredibly proud to be here, and proud to be a part of it,” she said.