As a D.C. resident (Ward 3) and a transgender individual, I have been a strong supporter of the Universal Paid Leave Act passed by the City Council last December. My need for paid leave continues to evolve, as both planned and unplanned medical needs have come up for myself and for my chosen family. My chosen family are other LGBTQ people who I’ve built loving, trusting relationships with. While UPLA is tremendously important for new parents, my experiences illustrate why paid leave for self-care and for family caregiving is just as crucial for D.C. residents who may not be parents but have similarly urgent caretaking needs.
My previous partner was hospitalized for 10 days due to a serious case of pneumonia. I took several days off work to be there for him. Luckily everything went fine after he got out of the hospital, but he was just another emergency away from losing his job and us from not being able to cover our housing costs.
At the end of January 2017, I had top surgery as part of my transition-related care. It went so well, and I was healing so quickly! My chest is doing great and I couldn’t have done it if D.C. hadn’t already required insurances to cover these procedures. I work for a nonprofit that offers paid leave. While I wound up needing less time that expected, only a week, my grandma passed away in Michigan and I was able to take time to go to her funeral.
The day I got back from Michigan — 19 days after top surgery — something shocking happened. I was jumped by two individuals who snuck up behind me. They smashed my face against a brick wall and they broke my jaw in seven places. I had several surgeries to permanently insert metal plates in my face and had my jaw wired for six weeks, living on a liquid diet for that time. Luckily there were no complications from the assault regarding my top surgery.
I could not have gotten through that time without the support of my chosen family and my employers.
I was not the only one in my family to have serious health crises this year. In the summer, one of my chosen family members experienced seizures and needed help. Another individual of my chosen family in just the past month is having surgical complications that require a feeding tube.
In just 12 months, I’ve had to use about six weeks worth of paid leave for my own serious health conditions — including time for follow up appointments after returning to work — and an accumulation of nearly three weeks worth of paid leave to provide care for my chosen family. If I was not able to get that kind of paid leave and caregiving support, I would be unemployed, facing financial ruin and severely depressed. I would have been forced to leave the District and move back to Michigan. If I was not able to provide that care for my chosen family members, their lives would have been at risk and it would be taking them so much longer to recover.
I was able to cobble together enough paid leave to meet my responsibilities, but having paid leave is not guaranteed by law and many employers do not provide it. The situation would be much easier and far more reliable if we had legislation in place to secure our rights to take time to care for ourselves and our families.
I call upon my councilmember, Mary Cheh, to withdraw her support for a proposal that would result in drawn-out legal challenges and, most importantly, be a waste of both time and money that even further delays and denies District residents the protections we so direly need.
We all have responsibilities that extend beyond the workplace — responsibilities to our biological families, chosen families and to ourselves. D.C. is a diverse city, but the need for paid leave extends to all of us — for different reasons and at different stages in our lives — and we all need it now.