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Americans are underestimating discrimination against LGBTQ people

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Many Americans think there has been a lot of progress on LGBTQ rights. But there is a long way to go.

An overwhelming majority of Americans think there has been progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, according to recent polls. But they are also underestimating the amount of discrimination LGBTQ people face.

Eighty-four percent of Americans think there has been a great deal or some progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, compared to only 14% who say there has not been much or none at all, found a new CBS News poll.

When it comes to discrimination against lesbians and gay men, 44% said there is a lot of discrimination, but 31% said there was only some and 22% said there was only a little or none. People were more likely to believe transgender people face a lot of discrimination if they know a transgender person. Fifty-six percent believed there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people, but 66% of those who know transgender people believe the same. The poll did not ask about discrimination against bisexual people.

Among those who were asked what changed their mind about marriage equality, 12% said they knew someone who is gay or lesbian, 22% said they knew more about the issue, and 26% said people should be able to make their own choices.

Perhaps so many Americans think there has been major progress on LGBTQ rights because a large share don’t understand that there aren’t many federal protections for LGBTQ people. Despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality across the country, LGBTQ people don’t have explicit national nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and credit.

A Reuters poll released earlier this month found that 45% of all Americans believe that federal law currently protects queer people from discrimination. Only one in three Americans knew that transgender people were not protected from discrimination in federal law. Forty-three percent of Americans said LGBTQ people were treated “about the same” as cis and straight people when it comes to health care access, and just 17% said LGBTQ were treated worse. Others said they did not know the extent to which LGBTQ people were treated differently.

LGBTQ folks have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. But there is no national law with explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era rules and guidance protecting LGBTQ people and banned transgender people from the military.

On the state level, protections are uneven. Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing and 20 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Fourteen states have nondiscrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. The legislation would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services. It passed the House in May. Nearly all House Republicans, or 173 members, voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not plan to bring the bill to the floor, and a senior Trump administration official has said that President Donald Trump won’t support the Equality Act.

Although there have been signs of progress in LGBTQ acceptance in the long term, a 2019 national GLAAD survey found a decline in overall comfort and acceptance of LGBTQ people among people ages 18 to 34 in 2018. GLAAD said there has been a steady decline in comfort in personal situations among this age group since 2016. Thirty-six percent of cis and straight people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member is in the LGBTQ community, and a third said they would be uncomfortable with a child being placed with an instructor in the community in 2018, compared to 24% and 25% in 2016, respectively.

In addition to legal barriers and personal discomfort with LGBTQ people in family and education environments, LGBTQ people still face threats of violence. At least 10 trans black women have been murdered in 2019. In 2018, the FBI reported a 17% year-over-year rise in federal hate crimes in the United States, and threats of violence and assault against queer people continue.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D’Inzillo was the business agent for New York City’s Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting.

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women’s inclusion. D’Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a “hidden child” during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In 1972, D’Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen’s apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City’s first female “booth man.” Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D’Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D’Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program:

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of ‘Dear Sir and Brother.’ The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women’s group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local’s membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D’Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local’s executive board, but she wasn’t interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D’Inzillo’s right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D’Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. The first profile this year is Irene Soloway.

As a young adult in 1978, Irene Soloway moved from St. Louis to New York. She was working in a bar that had a significant clientele who were roofers. Soloway referred to the behavior of her boss at the bar as “appalling,” so she quit. The roofers in the bar that she knew jokingly offered her a roofing hammer. She took it as a challenge, and it made her want to show them that she could do the job.

Soloway did some roofing work, but hated it. She moved through various jobs in the construction industry, but settled on carpentry, both because she liked the work and the Carpenters union opened its doors to women. She became a member in 1979, when she began the Women in Apprenticeship Program. Soloway and other women were made to feel that they belong, that the program was more than tokenism.

At the time, not only were there few women in the building trades, even fewer of them were feminist Jewish New York lesbians. Soloway said that she rarely faced any direct discrimination. Instead, the concerns of rank-and-file members, women or otherwise, were largely ignored in her local at the time. She said:

The union and the apprenticeship in the Carpenters Union was now what I would consider sexist…we were never discriminated against within the school—but the specific issues that were barriers to women were never addressed specifically. So it was a second hand…diffuse kind of way that sexism was expressed.

Even when concerns were raised, leaders in the local were told to keep their concerns quiet, as they were all “brothers” in the union. Soloway explained:

We tried to inform the Carpenters Union of what we thought they needed to do to make the union receptive to women and to be inclusive. And we…became aware…that the Carpenters Union was not interested in fresh, new ideas coming from rank and file. We came in with ideas about having sexual harassment for the men in construction. We came in with ideas about having a Women’s Committee that would address the issues of women in construction. We actually came in with ideas about how the apprenticeship school could be more in touch with the apprentices around issues of ethnicity and race and issues….And what we were always told was: We’re all one Union and we’re all brothers, and there’s no need…to point out these differences because we’re all carpenters.

This was the first time she had been in a union and Soloway was very excited about it because she believed that it was a structure that was supposed to support her and provide a steady job. But her local at the time was very undemocratic and her concerns weren’t taken seriously. Despite the fact that she was often the only woman in the meetings, she kept attending for the next five years, never backing down from the agenda that she pursued.

In 1979, Soloway had been a founding member of United Tradeswomen, a group of diverse women working in the building trades. The organization was originally formed to recruit women into apprenticeship programs but quickly grew to provide support and advocacy for women who were starting to enter the construction industry in New York. Much of Soloway’s early activism took place outside the union hall.

Fear and intimidation weren’t limited to the union hall, they were also present in the workplace. Rumors were rampant that members who spoke out against union leadership were met with violence or had their careers and lives destroyed. Soloway wasn’t intimidated. By 1994, she noted in an interview that many of the things she and allies had pushed for at the time have come to pass:

Now almost fifteen years later—they actually are being addressed, so that in terms of, yes, there is actually a Women’s Committee now that’s…sanctioned to meet within the Carpenters school, and it’s advertised in the Carpenters paper that there is such a committee, and who the contact people are—so there’s, at least, an acknowledgement of this committee. And there is specific training—sexual harassment training—for men and being done by women who are Carpenters—graduates of our school—who are now teaching at the school—which is an important part of the program. And another one of our other ideas was about teaching labor history in the Carpenters school, which was then ignored, and now, you know, like history’s being taught in the Carpenters school.

During the mid-1980s, she got a job with the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. The shift from at-will work that was left to the whims of the local’s power structure to a secure job with security was a major turning point in her life. When she started working for the city, she felt that her job was more secure and she could speak out more. In the civil service, they had elected stewards, not ones chosen by the power structure. She won the steward position after becoming outspoken about asbestos problems on her worksite. She started refusing to work in contaminated areas. Management wasn’t prepared for the problem and had to deal with it because of her. Several men came and asked her to run for steward. She won.

Soloway also helped produce the newspaper “Hard Hat News” and had to use pseudonyms like Brick Shields, to disguise her identity. She worked on a long, but successful, campaign to expand representation for rank-and-file members within the district council. In 1990, she appeared with other carpenters before the New York City Commission on Human Rights to testify about gender and race relations in the industry. She shared widespread reports that women in the industry faced threats of rape and physical violence and were subjected to pornography and insulting personalized graffiti on the worksite.

While she was working as a carpenter at Lincoln Hospital, she began taking pre-med classes and completed the coursework to become a physician’s assistant. She left carpentry and began work at a methadone clinic. She looked back on her activism and those of her fellow carpenters and what impact it had:

We still felt very much on the outside of the construction industry. It felt very kind of scary to us, but we kind of created cultural groups that supported ourselves and each other, that was able to move forward into that industry. Now I think that women are more into the industry, so I think we did do something. I think we did, like, move ourselves inside—from the outside to the inside—by creating an identity for ourselves, as well as educating ourselves and each other, and trying to educate the union about us….I think our presence and our strong continued presence for each other and ourselves was the main accomplishment of this group.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

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