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social sciences

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Organized Labor  
page: 1  2  3  

Within the gay movement, labor activists and working class queers were beginning to find each other. Both the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 and the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993 featured large gatherings for gays interested in working in the labor movement.

In 1994, when New York hosted the Stonewall 25 anniversary celebration, queer labor activists met and launched a national gay labor group they called Pride At Work (PAW). By 1997 PAW had become an official part of the AFL-CIO, though acceptance as a constituency group did not come easily.

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Several members of the AFL-CIO's executive council opposed affiliation, arguing that gay men and lesbians were not historically discriminated against in collective bargaining. In response, some members of the executive council and the glbtq union community accused those opposing affiliation of . But AFL-CIO president John Sweeney pushed hard for the affiliation, and it was eventually granted. However, the union refused funding for its gay group.

Canadian Experience

In many ways, the Canadian labor movement has been more strongly engaged in the quest for equal rights for glbtq workers and citizens than has the American labor movement.

In 1981 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) became the first union in Canada to win collective agreement language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This occurred at a time when Quebec was the only province to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Following the example of the CUPW, other unions soon added non-discrimination as a bargaining priority, and in 1985 a union representing library employees won domestic partner benefits for its members.

In 1992, the Canadian Auto Workers won recognition of same-sex relationships as part of a settlement, marking the first major breakthrough in the private sector.

Perhaps most importantly, the Canadian labor movement has advocated strongly on behalf of glbtq issues not simply in the workplace but in Canadian society generally. This advocacy culminated in strong union support for same-sex marriage.

As Alan Sears has observed, Canada's labor movement played a major role in securing equal marriage: "The Canadian Labour Congress issued a statement in support of the legislation, as did most provincial labor federations and many member unions. This cause brought together many of Canada's unions, in both the public sector--such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)--and the private sector--such as the Canadian Auto Workers and the Steelworkers."

Class Consciousness and Globalization

Like San Francisco's LGLA, most gay union groups have seen raising class consciousness within the queer community as one of their primary goals. This work has proved easily as difficult as promoting queer acceptance on the job, as many middle-class gay men and lesbians have regarded the working class as conservative and homophobic. However, many radical groups, particularly within the lesbian community, have worked to educate middle-class queers about the concerns of the working class.

At the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, issues of free trade and globalization have prompted U.S. gay and lesbian labor activists to make international connections to link the issues of queer rights, workers' rights, and human rights in the face of multinational corporate policies that undermine all three.

In 1999, when the World Trade Organization met in Seattle to map out strategies of globalization, Seattle's Out Front Labor Coalition (now a chapter of PAW) worked in concert with other local groups, such as Dyke Community Activists, to organize an educational conference titled "Queers Fight the WTO." The event provided information and built solidarity for a queer contingent in the massive protest that disrupted the WTO meeting.

International activists such as Carmencita "Chie" Abad, a Filipina lesbian labor union organizer who worked in Pacific Island sweatshops making clothing for The Gap, have traveled to the U.S. to help educate queer activists about the disastrous effects of global economic policy.

Tina Gianoulis

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anti-discrimination Statutes and Ordinances

Anti-discrimination statutes and ordinances have made a real difference in the lives of millions of glbtq individuals.

social sciences >> Overview:  Boycotts

Boycotts, the refusal to patronize companies or institutions, have in recent decades been organized by glbtq rights advocates to protest discriminatory practices and policies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Canada

In 2005 Canada became the fourth country to recognize same-sex marriages; the milestone victory solidified Canada's position as a leader in the struggle for glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Domestic Partnerships

"Domestic partnership" is the generic term for a variety of forms of legal and institutional recognition of same-sex couples that fall short of same-sex marriage.

social sciences >> Overview:  Marches on Washington

Marches on Washington in support of the rights of glbtq people have been a significant part of the modern movement for equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

social sciences >> Overview:  Radical Faeries

A movement that emerged in the late 1970s, the Radical Faeries identify with the gender variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Settlement House Movement

It is significant for glbtq history that a number of the women volunteers in the settlement house movement--which flourished at the turn of the twentieth century--formed close, lasting relationships with one another while living and working together.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sexual Harassment

The question of whether glbtq people in the United States are protected from sexual harassment under federal law has been a major issue for courts in the past 30 years.

social sciences >> Overview:  Teachers

Historically, glbtq teachers have faced all manner of social pressures, including open hostiliy and expectations that they hide their sexuality; now, however, teacher groups and individuals are working to improve the climate for glbtq teachers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Workplace Discrimination

Although work remains to be done, the expansion of protection from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation stands as one of the significant accomplishments of the American lesbian and gay civil rights movement.

social sciences >> Gay Activists Alliance

An important organization of the early post-Stonewall era, the Gay Activists Alliance, which flourished from 1969 to 1974, strove to give gay men and lesbians visibility in American politics.

social sciences >> Hay, Harry

Activist Harry Hay, an original member of both the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, is recognized as one of the principal founders of the gay liberation movement in the United States.

social sciences >> Manford, Morty

A pioneer in the gay liberation movement, New York activist Morty Manford inspired his parents to help found the organization that became Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG).

social sciences >> Mattachine Society

One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society was dedicated to the cultural and political liberation of homosexuals; but in the face of McCarthyism, it adopted conservative policies of accommodationism.

social sciences >> Milk, Harvey

Harvey Milk, among the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, was assassinated in San Francisco's City Hall, making him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

social sciences >> Pocan, Mark

A former seven-term member of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mark Pocan easily won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

social sciences >> Rustin, Bayard

One of the key African-American civil rights activists of the twentieth century, Bayard Rustin and his legacy have long been obscured because of embarrassment over his homosexuality and early involvement in the Communist Party.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


"Bayard Rustin: 1912-1987." AFL-CIO: America's Union Movement.

Faderman, Lillian. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America--A History. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

"Gay Labor Goes Global in Australia." The (August 13, 2003):

"Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Labour Resource Links." XPDNC (November 1, 1999):

Grevatt, Martha. "Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Liberation: What's Labor Got to Do with It?" Social Policy 31.3 (Spring 2001): 63-65.

Hay, Harry. Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder. Will Roscoe, ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Hunt, Gerald. Laboring For Rights: Unions And Sexual Diversity Across Nations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.

Krupat, Kitty, and Patrick McCreery. Out At Work: Building a Gay-Labor Alliance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Noble, Barbara Presley. "Linking Gay Rights and Unionism." The New York Times(December 4, 1994): F25.

Pecinovsky, Tony. "Gay Rights and Labor Share Common Struggle." People's Weekly World (May 27, 2006):

"Pride at Work." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (2008):

Sears, Alan. "Canadian Unions Fight for Same Sex Marriage." Labour Notes 317 (August 2005).


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Organized Labor  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated March 3, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  


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