HRC Blog

Pride in Purple: Major Labor Union Elects Lesbian Leader

The following post comes from HRC's Chief Diversity Officer, Cuc Vu: Last week, several HRC colleagues and I attended the LGBT Pride celebration of the 2.2 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), sometimes referred to as “the purple people” by their distinctive colors: purple and yellow. It was a powerful event for me not only because I am a former employee of SEIU, but because the keynote speaker was the newly-elected President of SEIU, Mary Kay Henry. With Randi Weingarten (President, American Federation of Teachers), Mary Kay – or MK as some of us have come to call her – is now the second openly-LGBT leader of a major union in our country. Her ascendance makes her one of our country’s most influential LGBT leaders. As a woman, a lesbian, and former employee of SEIU I was proud to stand and celebrate progress. Knowing SEIU’s culture and history, it’s not surprising to me that a leader of Mary Kay’s talent and charisma could rise to the highest level of the union. You see, SEIU is the most diverse union in the country. More than half its members are women and some 40% are people of color. SEIU also represents more immigrant workers than any union. With that kind of diversity, it’s hard not to imagine great possibilities. Mary Kay’s victory is a victory for all people, but it’s understandable that LGBT people are especially excited. Before becoming President, Mary Kay led the effort that successfully resulted in the passage of a resolution supporting marriage equality in 2005. This made SEIU the only union to recognize marriage equality. And two years ago, Mary Kay made SEIU a key supporter of the No on 8 campaign in California. So next time you see “the purple people”, the speaker they are cheering for just might be their new President and our LGBT champion, Mary Kay Henry.

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