For LGBTQ Americans, the fight against discrimination encompasses many issues, including our right to love and marry who we choose, to serve openly in the military, and our right to work free from harassment at our worksites.
This October, as we celebrate the rich history of our communities and continue to advocate for full equality under the eyes of the law, we cannot forget how critical updating labor laws is for our fight to be treated equally and with dignity.
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On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity because it necessarily involves sex discrimination and is therefore illegal under the 1964 law. But out gay, lesbian and transgender people still face many challenges at work, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the job market and economy.
After the pandemic hit in 2020 and shutdowns swept across the country, LGBTQ workers were 36 percent more likely to have lost work than the general population.
In another study published in September, one in ten LGBTQ people said they faced workplace discrimination in the last year, and nearly half said they’d dealt with it at some point in their career.
As we fight discrimination on the job and in our personal lives, we have the chance to stand together in mutual solidarity with the labor movement in the fight for workers’ rights. When these movements have come together, the results have been powerful moments in our history.
Incredible activists have paved the way for us — like Helen Marot and Pauline Newman, leaders in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union who fought for factory safety reforms after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and were out lesbians in the 1920s. In 1965, openly gay labor and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin launched the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) with a grant from the AFL-CIO to “promote racial justice and secure jobs and freedom for all Americans.” Despite widespread homophobia in the nation, including in the labor movement, at that time, this AFL-CIO Constituency Group still exists today, fighting for racial equality and economic justice. Their courage is a model for us all.
In the 1970s, the labor and LGBTQ rights movements saw a turning point as their solidarity strengthened, and unions pushed for domestic partnership rights and fought homophobic discrimination on the job. Unions like the AFA-CWA won the fight for domestic partnership language in their contracts.
As we continue to fight to enshrine LGBTQ rights on the job in the law, one of the best ways to protect gay, lesbian, and transgender workers is to support their right to form a union with their coworkers.
Today, almost all union contracts contain a nondiscrimination clause that can protect workers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. And unions can play an active role in fighting discrimination in the workplace.
Now there’s a chance for us to give all American workers a fair shot to have a union and protect their rights on the job — including vital protection from discrimination — by passing the PRO Act.
The PRO Act protects the rights of all workers to bring our voices together and advocate for themselves on the job. That means the right to fight for fair pay, safe conditions, and a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. The PRO Act will strengthen workers’ ability to form a union in their workplace, bargain a contract that protects their rights and negotiate for better pay and benefits, safety protections, schedules, and to fight against discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ workers.
Without union protection, it can feel impossible to stand up to a boss who cuts your hours or changes your shifts due to their personal biases and whims, but having a union gives that power back to employees who stand together on the job and at the bargaining table.
Billionaire CEOs and corporations have been waging a war against workers and unions throughout our history. At the same time, some religious and conservative groups — often underwritten by some of the same billionaires — are trying to push LGBTQ people back into the closet and into the shadows. But when we come together, we are a powerful movement; we have the power to fight back.
The solidarity of working people of all sexual orientations and gender identities will help us defend the rights we’ve already won and carry us on to victory in the fight for good jobs and equality for all Americans.