LGBT community seeks unity with labor unions

LGBT community seeks unity with labor unions

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Two national LGBT organizations have partnered to launch a Web site that seeks to increase public awareness about two pieces of federal legislation promoting workplace equality.

The National Stonewall Democrats and Pride At Work launched SharedAgenda.org late last month in an attempt to unify the LGBT and labor-union communities in the fight to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Employee Free Choice Act.

ENDA, which has not yet been introduced in Congress this session, would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a proponent of a previous version of ENDA, and U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced EFCA in March. The bill seeks to provide more power to employees to form or join unions as well as lay out stricter regulations for unfair labor practices.

Jon Hoadley, executive director of the Stonewall Democrats, said that last year he had been strategizing with Jeremy Bishop, executive director of Pride at Work — a constituency group of the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations that focuses on LGBT employment issues — about how to rally support for ENDA and the two noticed the similarities in the focus between both pieces of legislation.

“One of the main issues in the LGBT community for a long time has been working to end workplace discrimination. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to remove bias from employment and promotion practices, as well as tackle a number of other issues,” Headley said. “But the community has been doing things the same way for a long time, and we need to find another way to start to cast a wider net. So we thought, ‘Let’s fight for common ground and approach this conversation and education from a different perspective.’ We don’t just want to repeat the conversation we had before, but find ways to work together to talk about issues that are important to both of these specific communities and build allies through those conversations.”

Hoadley noted that, besides the shared goal of workplace equality, the LGBT community should support the unions that are pushing for EFCA because union contracts can often provide workplace protections for LGBT employees that go even beyond the scope of ENDA, which could be limited by religious exemptions and stipulations on the size of the companies affected.

“We’ve seen that when unions have the ability to form and represent workers, their contracts are typically very inclusive of our community. They often provide a legally binding way to get protections where ENDA may not. Passing either bill will move us forward, but passing both together is really going to catch more potential forms of discrimination.”

To achieve this objective, SharedAgenda.org provides educational tools about both EFCA and ENDA and forums for individuals to contact their legislators and urge them to support both pieces of legislation.

“We’re trying to provide a hub for people to get basic information about both bills and start the conversation about why working together makes a lot of sense,” Hoadley said. “Both of these bills are trying to get us to a place where people are treated fairly and advance our workplaces so they can be environments that are free of discrimination.”

Hoadley noted that building grassroots support for EFCA and ENDA in a state like Pennsylvania could be critical to the passage of both pieces of legislation.

“Pennsylvania is a state that could send a message to the rest of the country,” he said. “The cross section of the state looks pretty much like the cross section of the country, so building support in a place like Pennsylvania sends a signal to representatives and senators across the country that if it’s OK for senators and representatives from Pennsylvania, then it could be OK for their districts, too.”

To kick off the launch of the site, organizers are running a video contest that encourages supporters of workplace equality to submit videos to YouTube that explain why EFCA is integral for LGBT workers. The creator of the winning entry will receive a $400 United Airlines gift certificate, as well as other prizes.

Hoadley said the site has already received a high level of traffic, and that while some visitors were interested in learning more about the connection between the LGBT and labor movement, each question posed allows for further educational opportunities.

Hoadley noted, however, that “the most common response we’re getting is: ‘It’s about time we started working together.’”

Jen Colletta can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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