Pride at Work, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer constituency group of the AFL-CIO, held its eighth convention in Cleveland Sept. 12-14. Since its founding convention in 1994, P@W has raised the old union slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Many of the group’s founders were veterans of the Coors beer boycott campaign in California, which brought together many forces against a right-wing, anti-union, anti-LGBTQ and racist company. Over the years, conventions have passed resolutions to support striking and locked-out workers, for solidarity with labor struggles in other countries, and for the freedom of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In 1994, many moderate “gay rights” organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, resisted calls for inclusion of transgender issues. P@W, however, voted unanimously to constitute itself as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender labor organization. The name “Pride at Work” was chosen at the group’s first steering committee meeting. In 1997, P@W became the AFL-CIO’s newest constituency group, joining the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
The convention opened with a remembrance of the lives of transgender community members who had been killed since the last convention in 2009. Photos were projected and details shared about the 15 hate crime victims, almost all of them women of color. The final photo projected was of CeCe McDonald, an African-American transgender woman convicted for defending herself in the face of a bigoted attack in 2010. “She was imprisoned for surviving,” said Gabriel Haaland of San Francisco.
Haaland described his own experience of being arrested at a demonstration and getting discriminatory treatment for being transgender, calling it “a state-sponsored hate crime.” Haaland sued, and reported that he was treated differently at a subsequent arrest for civil disobedience. He asked convention attendees to make calls to get the charges dropped against Leslie Feinberg, who had a court appearance that day, following her arrest for demanding McDonald’s freedom.
Struggle only answer to bigotry
P@W’s executive director, Peggy Shorey, gave statistics on the economic discrimination faced by transgender workers. They are four times as likely as the general population to be in extreme poverty. A reported 26 percent have lost jobs for being transgender and 90 percent have faced on-the-job discrimination. Their bosses ignore the fact that 78 percent of transgender workers experience improved job performance after they transition. As a consequence of discrimination, 34 percent of African-American transwomen live on less than $10,000 a year. Compared to the country’s average of 1.6 percent, 41 percent of the transgender population have attempted suicide; the figure is 49 percent for transgender women of color.
Reports later in the convention covered the extreme discrimination transgender people face in health care, with 19 percent denied treatment because of their status. Many insurance companies refuse to cover gender reassignment surgeries. A transgender man, born biologically female, recently died of uterine cancer when he was denied treatment.
Voter suppression laws could deny franchise or even lead to charges of voter fraud for an estimated 25,000 voters whose gender identity does not match the gender on their drivers’ licenses.
Resolutions passed included a call for national actions for transgender health care on Feb. 1; support for the Chicago Teachers Union; a boycott of anti-worker and anti-immigrant Hyatt hotels; solidarity with workers, unions and LGBTQ communities around the world; solidarity with the DREAMers; and other progressive resolutions that keep alive the spirit of “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Speakers during the three days included chapter leaders reporting on concrete acts of labor solidarity, such as supporting the Mott’s strikers in upstate New York; helping shut down the port in Longview, Wash.; and turning people away from LGBTQ events at Hyatt hotels.
Other speakers addressed issues facing youth and people with HIV/AIDS, voter suppression, hate crimes and state ballot initiatives to support marriage equality. Leaders of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and the A. Philip Randolph Institute spoke, along with national leaders of many unions.
A downside of an otherwise powerful convention was the predictable push, mainly from labor officialdom, for supporting the Democratic Party in the November elections. Yet, as the statistics presented at the convention show, voting for Democrats in and of itself does little to end the oppression and exploitation experienced by LGBTQ people, including as part of the working class.
While many of the 200 LGBTQ and ally labor activists who attended the convention will vote for President Barack Obama and the Democratic ticket, it is clear that they will also be out in the streets for the rights of workers, the LGBTQ community and all oppressed people — no matter who gets elected.
Martha Grevatt is a 25-year Chrysler UAW activist and a founding member of Pride at Work.