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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
Putting the 'T' in LGBT - AFL-CIO adds gender identity protection pledge to its constitution
Section One
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Putting the 'T' in LGBT - AFL-CIO adds gender identity protection pledge to its constitution

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The nation's largest labor federation amended its constitution September 9 to add language pledging it to fight discrimination against Transgender workers.

The language of the AFL-CIO's constitution now reads: 'To encourage all workers without regard to race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to share equally in the full benefits of union organization.'

The AFL-CIO includes 52 U.S. and international unions representing some 12 million workers.

The decision to oppose gender identity discrimination was made at the organization's 2013 convention in Los Angeles, and was one of a number of measures adopted to forge closer links between organized labor and marginalized communities.

A STEP TOWARD EQUALITY 'Labor's progressive agenda is one of inclusion,' Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC) Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth told SGN by e-mail from the AFL-CIO convention. 'Progress towards full LGBT inclusion, while slow in coming, is now front and center. It is gratifying to see progressive leadership on the national scene pushing an agenda of inclusion long embraced by local labor leadership.'

The MLKCLC has been a pioneer in Trans protections, and it has adopted Ingersoll Gender Center's STEEP (Seattle Transgender Economic Empowerment Project) as a sponsored program.

'I am very gratified to see that national labor is stepping up as a partner for workplace equality for the Trans and gender-nonconforming community,' Ingersoll co-chair Breanna Anderson told SGN.

'That this commitment is encoded in their Constitution is exceptional. We can hope that this will send an important message to other unions and to our representatives that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with comprehensively. Experiences of discrimination in hiring, promotion, and workplace harassment are almost universal for Trans people. This is very positive step forward on our long journey to economic justice.'

Pride At Work, the AFL-CIO's LGBT constituency organization, celebrated the federation's decision on its Facebook page, calling it 'a great day in our movement.' Pride At Work was chartered in 1997, after a reform slate headed by John Sweeney won leadership of the AFL-CIO.

Sweeney's successor, current AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, has repeatedly called for full inclusion of LGBT workers at every level of the labor movement. In 2010, Trumka made an 'It Gets Better' video, recalling his own experiences as the son of East European immigrants.

LGBT ADVOCATES APPLAUD National LGBT leaders greeted the labor decision with enthusiasm.

Tico Almeida, the president of Freedom to Work, said he was 'thrilled' to hear the news.

'The AFL-CIO and its millions of members work hard to improve wages and working conditions for all Americans, and they are squarely on our side as transgender and gay workers fighting for a fair shot at the American Dream,' Almeida said in a statement.

'We are particularly grateful for the leadership of CWA [Communications Workers of America] President Larry Cohen, who introduced the proposal, and our LGBT brothers and sisters at Pride At Work.'

CWA represents some 700,000 workers in telecommunications, information technology, print and broadcast media, social work, and airline hospitality. In April the union pledged to fight health insurance exclusions that prevent Trans workers from getting medically necessary procedures.

National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling said the AFL-CIO decision was 'very exciting.'

'One of the things I feel is really interesting about it is that words mean something. And the way this is worded, it really is why we do the antidiscrimination thing,' she said.

'Labor has really been stepping up, and the AFL-CIO has been stepping up,' Keisling added.

'The labor movement has long been a leader on full inclusion in the workplace,' Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz said.

'This important addition to the governing document of the largest federation of labor unions is a historic and important step forward to ensuring that every American has an equal shot at employment and equal benefits.'

Other measures adopted by the AFL-CIO convention included a resolution condemning the mass incarceration of people of color, and one inviting all workers, not just those covered by collective bargaining agreements, to join the AFL-CIO.

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