June is Pride Month! The story of working class gays and lesbians in the trade union movement is as old as the early days of union organizing, when workers began to collectively demand improvements in their working conditions and fight for better pay, hours and benefits. Many unions participate in the annual Pride Parade, and many have added LGBTIQ representation in their decision making bodies.
In 2014, when World Pride came to Toronto, Labour Council published Labour Pride, a brief account of the role of workers and their unions in supporting gay and lesbian rights from the 1970’s. We wanted to honour the thousands of LGBTIQ workers who began the push to create visibility—all those who came out, organized for inclusiveness and diversity, and fought for equal rights on shop floors and in offices. As workers, activists, and staff of unions, they worked hard and pushed their unions, but did not always succeed. Although unrecorded in history, their defeats were no doubt a passage to later victories, and we honour their visibility, voice and courage.
Labour Pride documents the more positive changes and victories of LGBTIQ workers and the unions that supported them. These victories have been absolutely critical to the success of the struggle for equal rights for LGBTIQ peoples in Canada. Without the engagement and investment of unions in the struggle for equality of gays, lesbians, and trans people it is doubtful we would be where we are today, even where gains remain to be made.
Many unions in Canada have contributed their strength, influence, voice and resources in support of LGBTIQ workers. But the engagement of unions in LGBTIQ history is uneven. Most certainly, work remains to be done and all unions can and should get involved in supporting the rights of not only LGBTIQ workers, but the rights of all workers who face discrimination in any form.
Excerpted from the Introduction to Labour Pride by Prabha Khosla