For much of the time, I’ve been an activist, I have heard that Labor is a friend to the LGBTQ community, and one of the most stark examples for me of that was about five years ago, when I attended a Progressive “unconference,” held at the US Steelworkers headquarters. At the start of the event, as people introduced themselves, I was the only self identifying gay person, and everyone, including those representing labor were very warm and supportive, sharing with me the efforts within their organizations to promote equality. Then two summers ago, when Target held its annual stockholders meeting here in Pittsburgh, I participated as the sole LGBT representative, in a protest against Target for their corporate funding of anti-gay groups. It was perhaps the first time, I stood and spoke at a rally in front of an audience that was at least 90% straight, and they were all there to protest discrimination.
To many gays and lesbians however perceive Labor or union members as conservative and non-supportive. I think about that a lot, and especially today on Labor Day. Why this disconnect between organized Labor’s support for LGBT issues and the prevailing idea that labor-represented jobs are a place where LGBT persons will not be accepted. and I have a few thoughts.
The holiday originated in 1882 as a result of the labor movement and was intended to be a day of rest to recognize the efforts of the average working man.
However, there was a political angle to this holiday as well:
The recognition of Labor Day as a national holiday for the working man came about as a result of a law signed by President Grover Cleveland. Although Cleveland was not a significant labor union supporter himself, he found the legislation enacting Labor Day as a national holiday to be a symbolic remedy for political damage he had suffered earlier that same year. During this time, he used federal troops to thwart an American Railway Union strike in Chicago, and as a result, 34 railroad workers were killed.
This reminds me of the complex web between social change and justice and the political efforts connected when it comes to full equality for LGBTQ Americans. Protecting and celebrating the average person then and now is a product of people standing up and demanding to be treated with fairness and respect.
The LGBT movement’s leadership, in groups like the HRC haven’t done a good job helping the average queer person understand and connect to organized Labor. If anything, we as a movement have often bought into seeing Unions as the enemy of progress, as we have been too caught up in the capitalist propaganda. There are reasons why some call it Gay Inc.
So, we too often fail to recognize our similarity with the average Union worker, and turn a blind eye to the way they are still fighting for full equality and fairness. Like women, immigrants and minorities, laborers have been under fierce attack too. Surprisingly the tactics used to steal fairness from workers are the same as those used to deny us full equality.
Some of this is changing. Labor Unions and Progressive groups are working hard to connect many disenfranchised groups sot hat we can stand united and have greater influence demanding fairness and equality. Here at the State level, groups like Equality PA has made a point to connect and work with labor and all progressive organizations.
Today and everyday, Gay, Lesbian, Bis and Trans persons must band together and support labor workers and all those still seeking fairness and equality. The labor movement has a rich history and has learned many lessons that are important to today’s struggle for all progressive issues. With our efforts combined, we can accomplish more and protects the rights and freedoms for all of us.
Photo By Six Miles of Local History