Mary Kay Vukovich awarded for work in convincing Rock County to change benefits policy
JANESVILLE—Mary Kay Vukovich was fed up that her job benefits were not extended to cover her domestic partner.
So she did something about it.
She helped convince the Rock County Board to change county policies so employees in same-sex domestic partnerships can share benefits such as health insurance with their significant others.
For her efforts, Vukovich was named Activist of the Year by Fair Wisconsin, an organization that works for fairness and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents in Wisconsin.
She received the award June 1.
Vukovich and Cynthia Bloom have been in a domestic partnership for 12 years. Bloom is self–employed and was not receiving Vukovich's work benefits.
“It's been an eye opening experience,” Vukovich said.
Vukovich has worked for the county for almost 14 years and decided to reach out to other county workers to get the policy changed.
“Not all were receptive,” Vukovich said. “I kept asking when I was at the juvenile detention center, but received absolutely no support. It wasn't until I began working at the sheriff's department that things really started to change.
“I spent hours combing the county website,” Vukovich said. “Everywhere it said Rock County did not discriminate, but it was clear that the county discriminated based on sex and marital status. Once I showed the sheriff's office that, it really got the ball moving.”
“The more I spoke, the more people knew me,” Vukovich said. “The more I would tell my story, the more people realized that I was just like them.”
Vukovich spoke at both the county board finance and the staff committee meetings.
“This is about being fair and equitable,” Vukovich said.
Weeks before the county board vote, Vukovich spoke with all but two of the 29 county board members.
The county board Jan. 23 voted 20-7 to change the policy. Two supervisors were absent.
“In voting 'yes' tonight, you say to me, as a county employee, that my family is equal. You tell my five children that my family is equal. You tell my eight grandchildren my family is equal,” Vukovich said.
John Smallwood, advocacy and organizing director of Fair Wisconsin, said Vukovich did what was needed to get the county policy changed.
“Mary Kay did all of the work,” he said. “I spoke with her on the power of telling her personal story, attended meetings she spoke at, supporting her any way necessary.”
Vukovich said she was stunned to receive the award.
“I am so grateful to my wife as well as my children who stood by me through everything. The support I received from the sheriff's office … was more than I could ever ask for.”