The Time for Trans-Inclusion is Now!
One of the hallmark statements of the labor movement is an injury to one is an injury to all. In our current climate of unrelenting attacks on the progressive community: from attacks on labor rights, to virulent attacks on lgbt equality, to the continued assault on a woman's right to choose, this statement is just as relevant and critical now as when it was first uttered hundreds of years ago.
As Program Director for Pride At Work, AFL-CIO, I am able to hear from courageous lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers who live honest and open lives on the job and off. However, their courageousness does not come without consequences. Oftentimes their simple act of living honestly results in those LGBT workers facing tremendous discrimination and harassment on the job. With all the recent focus on the important struggle for marriage equality, we sometimes forget that it is still perfectly legal for someone to be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 41 states. For transgender workers, the situation is even more grim. Only 4 states; California, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Minnesota have employment non-discrimination protections that include gender identity / expression. There are no federal employment protections that safeguard LGBT people from discrimination on the job.
About once a week, I get a phone call from a different person, and if I didn't know better, I would think they are reading from an identical script. The caller usually self-identifies as transgender and they are calling because they are facing discrimination on the job. They tell me that in previous economic eras they would have simply looked for a new job. Nowadays however, jobs are scarce for most working class people, and even more scarce for transgender people who frequently face an unrelenting barrage of discrimination when trying to find a job.
Every so often these transgender workers facing discrimination are lucky enough to be covered by a union contract. In these situations, we are able to work together to educate their union, make sure grievances are filed, and the worker's concerns remedied. More often though, they are not represented by a union contract and their venues for remedy are few and far between. We discuss strategies to educate their co-workers and we discuss how to implement workplace policies that in theory, protect them. Until there is comprehensive federal employment non-discrimination legislation that covers not only sexual orientation, but also gender identity / expression, these transgender workers will continue to be easy prey for bigots and hate mongers who have no qualms discriminating against transgender people.
An injury to one is an injury to all. This is the labor movement's call to action to speak up for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves. The time to call for federal employment non-discrimination legislation that is inclusive of gender identity / expression is now. In 2003, the Pride At Work, AFL-CIO passed a resolution stating that, "Pride At Work, will only endorse legislation that explicitly includes transgender people." To that end, Pride At Work, AFL-CIO calls again for the inclusion of gender identity / expression in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and all bills that affect our community.
Now, I understand that with the current composition of the United States Congress, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will not be up for a vote, in any form, anytime soon. However, that does not mean that Pride At Work should not raise its voice for an inclusive bill now. We must educate our elected officials, co-workers, family, and friends to the necessity of explicit gender identity / expression protections in ENDA.
Pride At Work, AFL-CIO wants to do our part in this important education process. In the coming months, Pride At Work will:
- Set up systems so that you can directly communicate with your elected officials and let them know that you think it is essential for ENDA to be trans-inclusive. Our elected officials need to know that this is something that is non-negotiable.
- Educate the labor community to the despicable reality of job discrimination on the basis of someone's gender identity / expression. We'll be completely revamping our Gender Identity / Expression In the Workplace packet.
- Continue to work for transgender-inclusive legislation on the state level.
- Highlight the stories and struggles of transgender labor union members around the country.
An injury to one is an injury to all. The message still rings true. It is beyond time for us to stand in solidarity with transgender workers and demand comprehensive non-discrimination legislation today. Our transgender brothers and sisters can't wait--and as labor unionists, neither can we.
Pride At Work
Are you a transgender union member who would like your story told to the labor movement? Please contact Sandra Telep. We would love to have your input in this critical education project.