LGBTQ rights and labor rights are intrinsically linked
The core principle of organized labor in America has always been a commitment to fairness and opportunity for all working people — it’s why collective bargaining agreements have long included robust and durable protections that reflect a commitment not only to union members, but to the common good of all our communities and the people who live and work in them. And it’s why our unions — on behalf of 4.9 million workers — are announcing the Labor for Equality Council, a group of unions dedicated to these issues, and to passing the Equality Act to ensure all LGBTQ workers and their families feel safe and welcome in their neighborhoods, on the job, and beyond.
Civil rights are embedded in the labor movement’s DNA. We have fought to lift the shadow of discrimination in workplaces across the country for decades, creating more fair and equitable environments for our members and all working people. Building and strengthening the middle class doesn’t stop with the punch of a time clock. We believe everyone deserves a fair chance to provide a safe home for their families. We believe everyone deserves the ability to access education, sit down at a restaurant, check into a hotel, or use a federally-funded program without fear of harassment or discrimination.
More than 18 international unions and the AFL-CIO have endorsed the Equality Act, and 90 percent of all union members in America belong to a union that supports the legislation. LGBTQ rights and labor rights are intrinsically linked — our movement historically has stood on the front lines of some of the most important fights for justice, and we believe wholeheartedly in equality and justice for all people, regardless of who they are, where they live, and who they love.
Despite significant progress on LGBTQ employment rights — following not only the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, but also Biden administration executive orders and protections codified into law in 21 states — LGBTQ people still lack basic federal legal protections from discrimination and even violence at work. The nation’s patchwork of state non-discrimination laws still leaves millions of LGBTQ Americans subject to uncertainty when it comes to benefits, safety and access to advancement opportunities. Until the Equality Act is passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, far too many people who identify as LGBTQ will fall through the cracks of our civil rights laws.
The Equality Act would provide an important backstop against the current wave of state-level discriminatory legislation, by updating federal civil rights law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also provide increased protections for people of color and people of all faiths.
A strong bipartisan majority of the American people support passage of the Equality Act. That includes 94 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Republicans. In every state, a majority of adults support these federal protections.
Nevertheless, in 29 states, LGBTQ people can still be denied housing, access to education, and the right to serve on a jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. At work, one in four employees says LGBTQ workers are treated unfairly, and nearly half say they have heard anti-LGBTQ comments on the job, with nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans reporting having experienced discrimination in their personal lives. In 30 states, LGBTQ people are at risk of being fired simply because of who they are. The Human Rights Campaign reported that nearly 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans are in the closet at work because they fear retaliation. And across the country, the attacks on transgender Americans are rising, and over 100 bills have been introduced to curb trans rights. And despite progressive efforts at the federal level, conservative state legislatures are wasting no time in rolling back progress and making an already bad situation considerably worse.
2021 is poised to become the worst year for state legislative attacks on LGBTQ rights in history. The wave of discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ bills is unprecedented, in particular those targeting the transgender community and specifically transgender young people.
As the people who educate our children, keep our communities safe and care for millions of Americans across the country, we must stand up in the face of these injustices.
It’s time for the Senate to do the same and make the Equality Act the law of the land.
During his address last month to a joint session, President Biden called on Congress to send the legislation to his desk. The House of Representatives passed it in February with bipartisan support. For a long time, the only form of workplace protection for LGBTQ employees was their union card. Progress has been made since then, but for the Equality Act, there’s still one more chamber to go.
Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Mary Kay Henry is President of Service Employees International Union.
Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.