Union Leaders Who Identify as LGBTQ

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Though LGBTQ identified individuals are not particularly well represented in the world of labour unions, the community itself has been a beneficiary of many union organizations in its fight for human rights and equality, particularly in the developed world. Indeed, 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.

Homophobia at the workplace is a well-documented occurrence. Union organizations have been effective partners with LGBTQ workers in confronting this issue. While the issue remains prevalent, having LGBTQ individuals in position of union leadership becomes very important to progress, and activism is still a requirement.

Union action on many fronts often provided guidance and mentorship to LGBTQ activists on how to organize their specific movement for advancing human rights.

These 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 labor 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 further endorsed a trade union charter for International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (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).

We have found several prominent union leaders both today and in history who have identified as LGBTQ. We have included in this list leaders of student union organizations, as many of these individuals have gone on to become political, business, and union leaders later in life.


Finland

France

Great Britain

Ireland

  • Louie Bennett, Irish Trades Union Congress and Irish Women Workers Union
  • Helen Chenevix, Irish Women Workers Union and Irish Trades Union Congress
  • Fergal McFerran, Northern Irish Student Union NUS-USI
  • Helena Molony, Irish Women Workers Union and Irish Trades Union Congress

Israel

Norway

The Netherlands

United States

See Also

Further Reading/Research


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