HRC Blog

Labor Unions and LGBT Equality - A Long and Deep Commitment

Post submitted by Hayden, HRC Director of Strategic Relations, who formerly spent 10 years at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), most recently as Deputy National Political Director

HRC, labor unions

Labor Day is a fitting time to remember that unions have often been some of the earliest and strongest supporters of LGBT equality.

From the nurses in California, who demanded dignity for their patients when the HIV crisis first ravaged the gay community, to the janitors in New York, who stood up for healthcare equality, to the public workers in Pennsylvania who continue to fight for workplace non-discrimination ordinances, unions have been at the forefront of standing up for LGBT equality.

Many labor unions have been and remain key players in fighting off anti-LGBT ballot initiatives, committing hundreds of thousands of dollars and key staff to campaigns for marriage equality and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and fighting through contract negotiations and the political arena for transgender inclusive healthcare. In fact, the United Parcel Service Inc.’s union employees were the first to negotiate for domestic partner benefits.

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While there are too many to list and many more whose names have been lost to history, Labor Day is also an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions of the many LGBT trade unionists, including Harry Hay and Bayard Rustin. Hay in 1950 founded one of the earliest modern gay rights organizations, the Mattachine Society, and Bayard Rustin was celebrated just last week as the lead architect of the historic March on Washington in 1963.

It is also a time to reflect on the role working people continue to play in the LGBT struggle; for example, Donna Cartwright and Gabriel Haaland, co-founders of the transgender caucus of Pride @ Work, AFL-CIO, who initiated a path-breaking effort to enlist labor's support in ending discrimination against trans people in healthcare coverage. 

HRC, labor unions

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry with HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse at the Supreme Court marriage equality rallies in March.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the strides that have been made more than the number of openly LGBT leaders of key unions: Mary Kay Henry at SEIU; Randi Weingarten at AFT; Stuart Appelbaum at RWDSU.

"The power of a strong and vibrant Labor movement has been a critical piece to advancing our full equality in society," said Shane Larson, Co-President of Pride @ Work, an organization focused on working with organized labor and the LGBT community to support social and economic justice.  It's important that our LGBT community continues to stand alongside all workers in their fight for economic justice and a voice in their workplace," continued Larson.

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RWSDU President Stuart Appelbaum with Rev. Al Sharpton, HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse and NAACP President Ben Jealous

While so much progress has been made, much remains to be done. Today, in 29 states a union contract is still the only legal protection many workers have from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 33 states for gender identity and expression.

Take action on this Labor Day and support LGBT workers by sending your member of Congress a message to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at www.hrc.org/ENDA.

 

Editor's Note: HRC is proud to be a union shop organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

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