Friday, May 19, 2006

Queers + Immigrant Rights + Standing up for Hotel Workers = Justice

Two things happened this week that could potentially be very important long-term in getting the queer community more engaged on issues of economic justice and the labor and immigrant rights communities more engaged on queer issues.

On Wednesday Matt Foreman, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, issued this incredible statement on the need for the queer community to support the immigrant rights movement - both because it is the right thing to do and because it will tremendously strengthen the political power of both movements in the long term. The whole statement is worth reading, but this part in particular struck a chord with me:

We need to recognize that the leaders of the forces of political and religious intolerance are not driven primarily by anti-gay animus, even though it often feels that way. Instead, under their frame, anti-choice, anti-environment, anti-welfare, anti-sex, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT philosophies not only fit together but are all intertwined...Those of us on the other side, however, lack this overarching and elastic frame. We're all desperately fighting defensive battles to protect our own very narrow slices of an ever-diminishing pie. By ignoring Ben Franklin's advice to all hang together, we are most assuredly in imminent danger of hanging separately, each in our own silos.

This is a stark reality for our own community. At between 4-6 percent of the population, we are simply too small to win equality by ourselves. That means we must build alliances and relationships of trust with other communities and causes. Building these kinds of alliances requires more than words, it requires reciprocal work.

Let's hope Foreman and the Task Force follow up these words by doing LGBT-targeted turnout at immigrant rights demonstrations and by getting its members to bombard Congress with phone calls and emails that begin, "As an LGBT-identified American..." so that our elected officials know this is an issue with truly broad-based support. It's especially important that this happen quickly and visibly now, as the latest round of Senate votes suggest that this debate is truly coming down to the wire.

Meanwhile, in an even more exciting move, UNITE HERE, the national union which represents workers in the hotel, restaurant, textile and apparel industries, on Thursday announced an LGBT-targeted organizing initiative called "Sleep with the Right People" as part of its already incredible Hotel Workers Rising campaign. Hotel Workers Rising is a campaign initiatied by UNITE HERE and the Change to Win federation to lift both union and non-union hotel workers out of poverty and into the middle class, using the threat of multi-city labor actions - particularly hotel boycotts - to force fundamental changes in the way the hotel industry treats its workers. Sleep with the Right People is an attempt to use the LGBT community's leverage as a booming market in the travel industry (now worth nearly $60 billion) to support this effort.

Sleep with the Right People was conceived of with the help of Cleve Jones, founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and I am hopeful that other national LGBT movement figures will be on board soon. It’s a great initiative in that it recognizes both the economic power and the political power of standing with the LGBT community. If the queer community stands with hotel workers, it will not only have a powerful economic impact as far as the boycott goes, but it will also send a political message loud and clear: that we are all in the fight for economic and social justice together. And I have no doubt that if the LGBT community steps up, we will see reciprocal action in the form of UNITE HERE and the other Change to Win unions supporting marriage equality and (perhaps more importantly) a ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The Service Employees International Union and the United Farm Workers, both in Change to Win, have already come out as supporters of marriage equality. The United Farm Workers move was a direct result of the California LGBT community working against anti-immigrant ballot measures there - so I have no doubt that similar moves could come about if the LGBT community comes out firmly behind the current immigrant rights push and Sleep with the Right People.

One thing about all of this troubles me, however: while both Foreman's immigration statement and the launch of Sleep with the Right People were highlighted in their organization's weekly e-mail bulletin, they are near-impossible to locate on their organization's main web pages. The Hotel Workers Rising web site has a link that says Sleep with the Right People, but does not make any mention or notice of its LGBT-specific focus. In addition, neither of these moves seems to have attracted any real press attention. These are not moves that the Task Force or UNITE HERE should be so quiet about; instead, they should be trumpeted as the incredibly important steps they are. Sleep with the Right People should especially be promoted as a pioneering move to organize the LGBT community on the part of organized labor.

In any event, let’s hope that Sleep with the Right people finds its way onto the agenda of next Wednesday’s National Policy Roundtable of LGBT movement leaders. Send Matt Foreman, who organizes the forum, an email encouraging him to make that happen, and to make Sleep with the Right People a real priority for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the national LGBT movement.

5/20/06 Update - Checking the UNITE HERE website today, the front page now prominently highlights Sleep with the Right People. Way to go, UNITE HERE!


Blogger Stuffed Animal said...

So the game to play is, "support my cause and I'll support yours because your movement has the numbers and mine doesn't?" There's a little bit of a problem, though . . . what if I don't support the goals of their movement? And what if most of the people in their movement don't support my goals? It takes more than the desire of leadership to make political deals to create a strong coalition. The whole thing reeks of opportunism to me.

3:29 PM  

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