That we need a “Rally to Save the American Dream,” occurring in every state today, tells us something significant about how the “dreams” of millions are in jeopardy, already gone, or, in truth, were never a possibility. Among the coalition of organizations involved in today’s 50 state rally are The Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and GetEQUAL!. Robin McGehee, Director of GE, writes:
Our movement should be working with allied groups to find intersections of inequality and to work together to win equality. … The rights of those who are working to provide for themselves and their families — regardless of income level, sexual orientation, or gender identity — should be protected at a federal level. Anything less is unconscionable.
The connections between labor unions and Queerdom are not new. In 2006, for example, in Wisconsin, labor unions joined in the fight against a proposed ban on marriage and civil unions between same gender couples. In 2009, a coalition of over 50 labor unions, along with another of faith organizations, joined in the efforts to invalidate California’s Proposition 8, which banned marriage between same gender persons.
A few years earlier, 2001, a book, Out at Work: Building a Gay-Labor Alliance , addressed the relationships between LGBT organizations and individuals, and labor unions through essays of various activists, policymakers, union leaders and academics. Those included U.S. Representative Barney Frank and then AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney.
Although mainstream gay rights organizations have tended to imagine their community as primarily middle class, an overwhelming number of lesbians and gays are working class, and many are already union members. Indeed, most of the progress made toward improved workplace conditions for gays and lesbians has been accomplished by rank-and-file union activists.
Of course, the same general arguments made against unions, including that they are no longer needed, are sometimes heard within queerdom as well. Listening to arguments that unions are no longer necessary is like listening to someone argue that gender and race are no longer factors in, among places, where you work. Progress has been made, but the movements toward full civil rights are far from complete.
And as there are those in the LGBT communities who do not support unions, there have certainly been times when unions have not backed LGBTs struggles toward civil rights. But in general, there is a solid relationship.
One of the best reads I’ve found regarding what’s happening now is at Bilerico, with Joe Mirabella’s article, “Understanding the Significance of Wisconsin’s Unions & Why We Should Stand in Solidarity.”
The unions have a strong history with the LGBT communities. …
Not only do they stand with us symbolically, unions back up their support with money and people power when it is necessary. In Washington state, the unions provided both financial assistance and volunteer resources when we were fighting to protect our domestic partnership rights. Nationally, the unions stand with us for our push for an inclusive ENDA.
Another very good read comes from Keori, at Pam’s Houseblend, “Why LGBT Rights Are Worker’s Rights”:
LGBT rights are workers’ rights. Fair Wisconsin is in the thick of this. Executive Director Katie Belanger, along with Fair Wisconsin supporters, has been in the Capitol protesting, and calling legislators to let them know that it’s never okay to take away the rights of human beings for any reason. She appeared on MSNBC’s Ed (Schultz) Show on Friday night.
SCHULTZ: Katie, how do you see this unfolding as we go forward?
KATIE BELANGER, FAIR WISCONSIN: Well, I think that this is certainly about workers’ rights. But the larger issue is about people’s rights and the rights of citizens. And we’re an organization that is about standing up for not just the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but about the people of Wisconsin. And we knew labor stood with us. Time and time again, every time we’ve had a challenge, they’ve been right there with us. And this was our opportunity to stand with them. BLOCK CLOSED
The movements toward equality, for full civil and human rights, are just that, movementS, plural. What else could it be, given the complexities of social, political and economic realities. But if the need to work together isn’t recognized now, well, I’m not sure what it will take.
One way the “working together” happens is what we’re seeing in Wisconsin and elsewhere – the literal gathering of diverse people demanding their rights. “Working together,” in general, includes a refusal to accept the stereotypical scapegoating efforts of the opposition – when public sector employees are painted as greedy, selfish; the Hispanic population is generalized as “illegals”; Black communities are labeled as lazy, dangerous. The “homosexuals,” of course, are a threat to all that is “traditionally” godly and patriotic.
Unions are a current focus of why joining forces is so important in, for me, the liberal movements. Call it progressive if that works better for you, no worries. The “together” part is complicated, but so is life in general. We figure it out, work at it, as we go. Among other things, joining forces does require prioritizing at times, like now, with the clear and present danger to unions. It also requires that specific needs and issues of specific members of coalitions are treated with equal importance. So when in Wisconsin the focus was on efforts to ban “gay marriage,” unions stepped up and worked with LGBT activists to fight it. Now, the need is for LGBTs to fight for the rights of unions.
Fair Wisconsin’s Katie Belanger says, “LGBT rights are workers’ rights.” Or to put it another way, as Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We really are in this together. Or at least, we need to be.