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Out at Work

Building a Gay-Labor Alliance

2000

Kitty Krupat and Patrick McCreery, editors

Out at Work

Challenging the gay rights movement and labor unions to join forces in order to advance workplace rights for all.

Although mainstream gay rights organizations have tended to imagine their community as primarily middle class, an overwhelming number of lesbians and gays are working class, and many are already union members. Out at Work identifies the important parallels between the labor and gay rights movements and their shared work of foregrounding human rights, fighting homophobia, and embracing the full range of sexual expression.

Contributors: Cathy J. Cohen, Teresa Conrow, Lisa Duggan, William Fletcher Jr., Representative Barney Frank, Tami Gold, Yvette Herrera, Desma Holcomb, Amber Hollibaugh, Gloria Johnson, Tamara Jones, Heidi Kooy, Andrew Ross, Van Alan Sheets, Nikhil Pal Singh, John J. Sweeney, Jeff Truesdell, Urvashi Vaid, Riki Anne Wilchins, and Kent Wong.

In an unorganized workplace, coming out as gay and coming out as a union supporter both require enormous acts of courage. Nevertheless, as more gay men and lesbians go public with their sexual orientation, more are also organizing—in their workplaces, in their unions, in their communities and in legislative and political arenas.

John J. Sweeney, AFL-CIO

Today in thirty-nine states, employers may legally fire workers simply because they are known or thought to be gay. Clearly, the struggle against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation has a long way to go. In Out at Work, a distinguished group of prominent gay rights activists, union leaders and members, policymakers, and academics—including U.S. Representative Barney Frank, AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney, and rights advocate Urvashi Vaid—offers a spirited assessment of the challenges faced by lesbians, gays, and other sexual minorities on the job.

Although mainstream gay rights organizations have tended to imagine their community as primarily middle class, an overwhelming number of lesbians and gays are working class, and many are already union members. Indeed, most of the progress made toward improved workplace conditions for gays and lesbians has been accomplished by rank-and-file union activists. Out at Work identifies the important parallels between the labor and gay rights movements and their shared work of foregrounding human rights, fighting homophobia, and embracing the full range of sexual expression. Through case studies of organizing efforts and more broadly political approaches, the authors call for both movements to reexamine their priorities and practices. There is much to be gained from a partnership between these movements, they conclude: for the gay rights movement, having the bargaining power of the trade unions behind them; for organized labor, a broader base of support.

Contributors: Cathy J. Cohen, Yale U; Teresa Conrow; Lisa Duggan, NYU; William Fletcher Jr., AFL-CIO; Representative Barney Frank; Tami Gold, Hunter College; Yvette Herrera, Communication Workers of America; Desma Holcomb, UNITE; Amber Hollibaugh; Gloria Johnson, Coalition of Labor Union Women; Tamara Jones; Heidi Kooy, Exotic Dancers Union; Andrew Ross, NYU; Van Alan Sheets, Pride at Work; Nikhil Pal Singh, U of Washington; John J. Sweeney, AFL-CIO; Jeff Truesdell, Orlando Weekly; Urvashi Vaid, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Riki Anne Wilchins, GenderPAC; and Kent Wong, UCLA.

Out at Work

Kitty Krupat and Patrick McCreery are contributors to this volume and doctoral candidates in the American Studies program at New York University.

Out at Work

If Teamsters and turtles can ally themselves, why not machinists and Mattachines, brotherhoods of electrical workers and friends of Dorothy? Indeed, such coalitions have been in the works for some time and, what's more, have been integral to the revival of the labor movement, according to the essays by academics, trade unionists, and queer activists collected in Out at Work. Combining political analyses, journalistic reports, anecdotal narratives, rhetorical pronouncements, and several interviews and roundtable discussions, the book is itself a lively demonstration of the range of activity that has been challenging workplace discrimination against lesbians and gay men, infusing labor agitation with queer protest tactics, and bringing class consciousness into the LGBT movement. The anthology also gauges with a clear eye the considerable obstacles that remain.

Village Voice

This collection of essays chronicles the work that has been done, and the work that remains, in ‘building a gay-labor alliance.’ It enacts a conversation between theory and practice, grounding its generalizations in the facts of actual organizing drives (the details of which make for good reading).

Gay and Lesbian Review

Out at Work provides an important contribution to industrial relations research by exploring the conditions under which labor is willing to move beyond traditional class issues to include more diverse equity issues.

Work and Occupations

Drawing on their collective experience in various kinds of political organizing around both labor and sexuality, they have brought together in this unique anthology an impressive range of perspectives on how (and why) to build a gay-labor alliance in the United States.

American Quarterly

In an unorganized workplace, coming out as gay and coming out as a union supporter both require enormous acts of courage. Nevertheless, as more gay men and lesbians go public with their sexual orientation, more are also organizing—in their workplaces, in their unions, in their communities and in legislative and political arenas.

John J. Sweeney, AFL-CIO

The patriarchs of the left ignore the value, energy, exciting ideas, and pragmatism found in the identity-based movements. They fail to realize what the newly revived labor movement today is showing to be true: by paying attention to gender, race, sexual orientation, and other kinds of ‘identities,’ and by incorporating critiques that gave rise to identity-based movements, movements for workers' rights and for a fairer economy can find new strength.

Urvashi Vaid, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

As long as this society continues to be plagued by homophobia, there will be strong practical, intellectual and moral ties between those who fight for fairness in the workplace on economic grounds, and those who fight against unfair discrimination and for fairness both in the workplace and out.

Representative Barney Frank