LGBTQ individuals have been under-represented in labour unions, with exceptions such as Anthony Asquith (on the right). However, the community has had the help of many union organizations, when fighting for their human rights and equality.
LGBTQ equality and anti-discrimination policy have been considered employment rights in the trade union movement for a long time. This could well suggest that LGBTQ activism occurs mostly at the rank and file level, rather than the leadership level.
Unions and LGBTQ workers have long confronted the issue of homophobia in the workplace. While it still remains prevalent, LGBTQ individuals as union leaders are very important to progress, through their activism.
Unions provided guidance and mentorship to LGBTQ activists on how to organize their movement for advancing human rights.
Activists have utilized the union structure to build solidarity with allies on many issues, but perhaps particularly on the employment and health fronts. Unions were particularly present in the AIDS activism of the 1980s and 1990s. It is documented that the first instance of same-partner employee benefits occurred, because of union contract negotiations, at The Village Voice newspaper in 1982.
In 1979, the AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest federation of labour unions, made its first call for a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Congress, in 2014, adopted the motion “to oppose oppression and discrimination on the grounds of … sexual orientation, gender identity” and to “encourage ITUC affiliates to defend workers suffering such discrimination”.
It also endorsed a trade union charter for International LGBT Solidarity, published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that LGBTQ business leaders and entrepreneurs have been no better at treating their non-unionized (and often LGBTQ) staff than any other business people (see Mirriam Frank, Out in the Union: A Labour History of Queer America, 2014).
To read more from Queerbio.com on the list of LGBT union activists, click HERE.