This month marks the 50th anniversary of the heroic Stonewall Rebellion, an event being commemorated throughout the world. On June 20, the LGBTQ2S+ movement and the labor movement joined in celebrating another major milestone: the 25th anniversary of the founding of Pride at Work (P@W) — the LGBTQ2S+ Constituency Group of the AFL-CIO.
The celebration was held at the AFL-CIO national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Representatives from more than a dozen labor organizations and LGBTQ2S+ civil rights groups came, including Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, Trans Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and several board members of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Solidarity Awards were given to Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Shane Larson, former co-president of P@W; and Lambda Legal Staff Union-Communication Workers. Lambda Legal Staff organized in 2017.
Part of the Stonewall tradition
P@W was founded in 1994 in New York City; its first convention took place during the Stonewall 25 commemoration.
By that time there were groups in a number of cities advocating inside the labor movement for LGBT rights, as well as LGBT caucuses in several major unions. Lesbian and Gay Labor Alliance (Bay Area), Lesbian and Gay Labor Network (New York), Gay And Lesbian Labor Activists Network (New England) and others laid the foundation for Pride at Work.
There was a great deal of misunderstanding in the labor movement around LGBT rights, from the top levels of leadership down to the rank and file. A historic step forward was the 1987 reception held at AFL-CIO headquarters during the weekend of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The late United Farm Workers President César Chávez addressed the march.
Unions also marched and held receptions during the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. In 1994 the time was ripe to form a national organization to build mutual solidarity between the LGBT community and the labor movement.
The convention established the organization, with a basic structure and a national executive board with regional representation. As the convention was nearing adjournment, a resolution was introduced to modify the name, Lesbian and Gay Labor Organization, to make it Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Labor Organization. Passing unanimously, this resolution was tremendously important at a time when the mainstream civil rights movement was slow to embrace trans liberation.
The name Pride at Work was adopted at the first national board meeting.
25 years of solidarity
One of P@W’s first campaigns as a fledgling organization was to pressure Chrysler to end anti-LGBT discrimination and add “sexual orientation” to the nondiscrimination clause in its contract with the United Auto Workers. The language was added in 1999 at Ford and General Motors as well as Chrysler, with domestic partner benefits granted a year later. Current contracts also cover “gender identity” and “gender expression.”
In 1997 the AFL-CIO voted for P@W to become an official Constituency Group, joining the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement and APALA.
Over the years P@W has supported many LGBTQ2S+ workers in and out of unions. Examples include supporting a worker at a Speedway gas station in Indiana who was fired for being gay, and challenging the state of Michigan over domestic partner benefits.
The group has educated the labor movement on LGBTQ2S+ issues and educated the LGBTQ2S+ community on the need for unions. Since P@W’s founding, many out LGBTQ2S+ workers have been elected to union office, including Josette Jaramillo, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO; and Cal Noyce, former president of the Central Utah Federation of Labor.
P@W has taken many progressive stands, from demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal to endorsing the 2018 International Tribunal on U.S. Colonial Crimes in Puerto Rico.
Most unions have advanced to a progressive position supporting LGBTQ2S+ rights and equality. On May 22 the United Federation of Teachers passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, pledging to “recommit ourselves to the timeless values of universal equality which uphold our movement toward LGBTQ liberation.”
When P@W Chapters march in Labor Day and Pride parades, their banners are emblazoned with the timeless union slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Martha Grevatt is a founding member of Pride at Work and served on its national board from 1994 to 2001.