News

LGBT Groups Express Solidarity with Pro-Labor Activists

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Apr 13, 2011

In the two months that have passed since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker introduced his so-called Budget Repair Bill that sought to curtail state workers' benefits and collective bargaining rights, the flurry of protests and political theater that followed have dissipated. Emotions, however, are still running high as lawmakers in Ohio and more than 30 other states have introduced similar measures-which have faced similarly vocal opposition.

While only a handful of LGBT groups responded to the massive protests in Madison, Wis., and elsewhere on which EDGE first reported in February, more than 60 organizations have signed onto Pride at Work's statement in support of workers' rights. These include the Human Rights Campaign, GetEQUAL and the National Black Justice Coalition.

"Politicians' radical attacks on workers' fundamental rights would be devastating for LGBT families, for all workers and for all people committed to progressive change in this country," reads the statement. "Whether as LGBT workers or community allies of labor, the moment demands we stand up and stand together."

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said workers' rights are closely linked to the struggle for LGBT rights. The movement, she said, is a diverse one with an array of concerns that extend beyond marriage equality and other specifically "gay" issues.

"These struggles-for economic justice, racial justice and equality-are completely intertwined," Nipper told EDGE. "There are important alliances to be made between the various struggles for social justice in our country and so it's equally important for us to uphold the rights of workers. We see it as critically important."

Walker signed his bill into law on March 11; but Hans Johnson, the openly gay president of Progressive Victory, said it remains important for him to support public employees who continue to challenge him, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other governors' who have proposed similar anti-union measures. Johnson pointed out that the movement for legal relationship recognition for same-sex couples started with contract negotiations in Berkeley, Calif., that eventually led to the approval of a domestic partner registry for city and school employees in 1984.

Johnson also sees a link between what he described as attacks on public employee unions and those against LGBTs. Many of the same states that have adopted "right to work" laws that prohibit labor unions from collecting membership dues have also amended their constitutions to specifically ban marriage for same-sex couples.

"The stigmatization of the sacrifice, work ethic and often the caregiving that public workers provide is very similar and shares definite overtones with the kind of mocking and dehumanizing rhetoric that so-called conservatives use against LGBT people," said Johnson.

Johnson described LGBT support for workers' rights as "logistically and politically crucial" for the community's ability to show "real political strength" and make the case for continued legal progress. Labor unions have traditionally been strong allies to pro-LGBT causes and political candidates. Johnson stressed, however, activists need to strengthen this relationship.

"For unions to be allies in our struggle, that doesn't happen just by waiting for people to come to you," added Johnson. "You have to cultivate bridges of mutual understanding and solidarity over the course of that relationship. We need to understand the freedom to have a voice in the workplace is something that is equivalent to and shares significant overtones with our own struggle for freedom and equality."

Not all LGBT activists agree.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, noted unions "have a place in our history." He stressed, however, the country's current financial circumstances mandate cuts to programs and institutions that some may find "painful."

Cooper added LGBT Americans' interests ultimately lay in finding a solution to what he described as the nation's "financial crisis." He said that message rang loud and clear in last fall's midterm elections when a record number of gay-identified voters supported (mainly Republican) candidates who campaigned on promises that they would reduce government spending and taxes and reform public pensions and other entitlement programs.

"Spending and budget concerns and addressing entitlements are as important to us as it is to the rest of America," Cooper told EDGE. "It may be difficult at this time, but it is a matter of all of us, as a collective of citizens of this country, to realize that we're all going to have to suck it up a little bit to get us through this. Otherwise, for our generation and those after us, there's not going to be resources left."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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