Photo of Taylor at the Pride Parade
By Taylor Bacon
Parry Center for Children, Cook
Though unions were established to protect workers’ rights on the job, the fight for justice and equality has long been a driving factor of the organized labor movement. Unions have been essential to fighting back against discrimination in the workplace while pushing for civil rights and closing the gender pay gap. Even before marriage equality was a national issue, many union collective bargaining agreements prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and allowed for domestic partnerships to be recognized in healthcare plans. These issues go beyond the workplace, and it’s one of the many reasons I’m a proud SEIU member.
Being a union member has brought me closer to my coworkers, my community, and to the kids we work with everyday at the Parry Center for Children, a public non-profit where we provide residential and intensive community-based mental health services to youth in crises. As a collective with shared perspective, my coworkers and I are continuously able to have a voice in raising the standards of care that we provide for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable individuals.
Growing up in a small, rural community as a gay man, you get pretty skilled at hiding in plain sight. A town over from where I grew up, a known same-sex couple woke up one morning to find a cross burning on their lawn. As a cis, white male I am fortunate to have just enough cover to have prevented daily assaults.
I grew out of that small rural town, but even here in progressive Oregon, members of the LGBTQIA+ community consistently face discrimination, harassment, and a life in the shadows. At my current job, it was years before I felt comfortable coming out to my coworkers. When I worked in a shipping warehouse, I never came out to my coworkers just knowing that I would be putting myself at risk. My own partner has never come out to his colleagues. And this lack of safety only intensifies for LGBTQIA+ individuals who are women, transgender, gender non-conforming, immigrants, or people of color. For people at the intersection of these identities the trauma, violence, and poverty can be even more extreme.
At SEIU 503, we’re striving to create a better life for all Oregonians. An injury to one is an injury to all — it’s vital that we do not let these communities flounder. At my worksite, as a union steward, I strive to create a safe environment. My goal is to create a welcoming environment where all feel safe.
But our union can often stretch beyond the worksite, allowing members to wed personal goals with their professional lives. SEIU’s Lavender Caucus, one of many member-led caucuses within our union, is dedicated to facilitating open and respectful communication between the LGBTQIA+ community and the labor movement. Our Lavender Caucus is one of the many ways LGBTQIA+ union members can become active in both their union and their community. In the two summers, the Caucus has been a staple at Pride events throughout the state, including Portland, Astoria, Salem, Albany, and Eugene. Through the Caucus’ partnership with Red Dress PDX, we were able to help raise tens of thousands of donations for local LGBTQIA+ and children’s charities.
This Labor Day, remember that unions are there for us when we need it most and expect it least. From Teamsters pushing Coors Brewing Company to discontinue its policy of discrimination against union supporters and LGBTQIA+ community members in the 1970s to the AFL-CIO backing national marriage equality in 2005, unions have been an integral part of the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights — because our rights are human rights, and human rights are workers’ rights.