Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America author and Pride at Work founding member Miriam Frank was the featured speaker at a Chicago Teachers Union ( CTU ) LGBTQIA+ event, co-hosted alongside Pride at Work's Chicago chapter, Nov. 9 at CTU's West Side headquarters.
The event also featured a panel discussion moderated by CTU LGBTQIA+ Committee and Pride at Work Chicago member, substitute teacher and University of Illinois, Chicago School of Social Work student Elijah Eiler.
Panelists included CTU LGBTQIA+ Committee member and Beethoven Elementary Teacher Joseph Dunlap; CTU LGBTQIA+ Committee Chair, Chicago GSA Prom founder and Suder Montessori Magnet School Students and Community Dean Noa Padowitz and Howard Brown Health nurse and union organizer Johannes Mosquera Wilson.
Ahead of the Frank's talk, Eiler spoke about the recent Supreme Court Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ( AFSCME ) decision that said public employees can opt out of paying agency fees and not become union members. They explained that recently there has been a labor uprising, including many teachers strikes under the movement Red for Ed, across the country that have resulted in better working conditions.
Frank spoke about the importance of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators ( CORE ) over the past decade in fighting against school closings and privatization of public education in Chicago.
"For four years CORE and its organizers worked to turn the union around," said Frank. "CORE battled the leadership of Local 1 as well as the chiefs of Chicago's Public Schools ( CPS ). They have continued to work with activists in the ranks to reform the system."
Frank reminded the audience that they are continuing that work to keep the union "fair and strong, while reforming the system from the ground up and that among those teachers are rank and file activists who are LGBTQIA."
Delving into the history of laws that rolled back progress for working people nationwide, Frank spoke about the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which gave state legislatures a way to set limits on union power. Frank said this gave private employers the right to bar the union shop and this led to many right-to-work states, especially in the former slave states of the south. She explained that the "Red Scare" also led to unions, and other entities, being targeted as communists and this included driving LGBT people out of government jobs called the Lavender Scare.
Frank said when she studied labor laws she found the states that had adopted right-to-work laws also kept their criminal sodomy laws on the books for a much longer time, some of whom have not repealed those laws despite the 2003 federal Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas that overturned criminal sodomy laws nationwide.
"Illinois was the first state to repeal its sodomy laws in 1961," said Frank. "Other states followed in 1971 and, by 1980, 27 state legislatures had struck down these statues."
Frank explained that the original right-to-work states and the most recent ( Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan ) do not have LGBT state civil rights statutes. This means, Frank said, that although gay and lesbian couples can get married across the country they can still get fired in states without LGBT protections.
"When union and LGBTQIA movements know each other's linked history, we will rise, and our anti-gay, transphobic and right to work enemies will fall," said Frank.
Eiler explained that the panel's focus would be how LGBT and union rights have played out recently in Chicago including the CTU.
Dunlap said CTU's LGBTQIA+ committee began by identifying areas where they could affect change within CPS in terms of student and staff/teacher non-discrimination protections. He explained that they also fought to get partner benefits for gay and lesbian staff/teachers before marriage equality was the law in Illinois. Dunlap said their work is not over because LGBT people are continually under attack, even in cities like Chicago.
Padowitz explained the process of becoming a member of CTU's LGBTQIA committee. She said that this year's Chicago Pride Parade saw record turnout for CTU's float participants. Padowitz also gave a shout out to the recent, first of its kind in the U.S., Chicago Charter school strike authorization and that elicited cheers from the audience.
Wilson spoke about the high patient volume at Howard Brown Health and how much work the nurses do at each location to meet the patient's needs, including the nurse-led sexual health walk-in services. He said the reason why it was important for them to unionize a progressive place like Howard Brown Health was to show that there are issues in every workplace that need to be addressed. Wilson explained that the non-profit industrial complex can be a trap because the people who work there do so because they want to make a positive impact on the world.
Howard Brown Health was prioritizing billing over patient care and conducted arbitrary firings, said Wilson. When Howard Brown Health moved its recent conference from the Marriot Hotel, where workers were striking, to another location in solidarity, Wilson said the nurses found their opening to confront their boss to get union recognition which they achieved. Wilson said they are currently in the process of working out a union contract with Howard Brown Health management.
A Q&A session followed.