Labor and social-justice movement advocacy has been Joan Jones' focus throughout her entire adult life; it's the lens through which she started the National LGBTQ Workers Center this past spring.
The National LGBTQ Workers Center is, according to its website, "a space where workers can go to stand up to workplace discrimination and fight for economic justice."
Jones' desire to focus on organizing within her own LGBT community inspired the center's creation, she explained.
"As someone who has felt the sting of surviving our economy as a queer Afro-Mexicana woman, I decided to create the organization that I wish was there for me when I was a young workerone that could provide organizing support and resources to the many LGBTQ folks struggling in today's economy," said Jones. "Worker centers were originally founded by African American workers in the United States who, due to discrimination, have traditionally been left out of major union organizing efforts. In response to this, they formed worker centers to support and uplift Black workers."
Jones started her advocacy work at the University of California ( UC )-Berkeley, where she led the school's longest-running progressive political party for two years. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and ethnic studies. Following graduation, Jones took her skills to the Service Employees International Union ( SEIU ) 925 in Seattle, where she was a community organizer for Spanish-speaking workers in the education sector. While there, she also helped found SEIU 925's Organizational Equity and Inclusion Program..
A few years later, Jones moved to Washington, D.C., to take on the role of millennial coordinator for the SEIU. She was also a member of SEIU's national education team. Now Jones runs her own business, Joan Jones Consulting, alongside her work as the founder and board president of the National LGBTQ Workers Center. She serves as the New Leaders Council Chicago board education co-chair and resides in Joliet with her partner Monica.
"Over the last few years, I have been inspired by worker centers across the country who tirelessly organize and represent disenfranchised workers across identities and industries," she explained. "In light of recent Supreme Court cases that have attacked unions and working-class people, the LGBTQ Workers Center fills the need for a space that lifts up LGBTQ folks and gives us access to tools to organize in our workplaces and communities. We are an organization that centers trans people, Black folks and other people of color ( POC ), who are disproportionately impacted by the economic injustices in our society."
A key priority for the organization is to "meet fellow working-class LGBTQ people where they are at and organize around issues that are important to our survival," Jones added.
The center will initially investigate what most pressing economic concerns in the LGBTQ community are, and how they vary geographically; the assistance it provides depends on which state a worker resides in. In Illinois, where LGBTQ workers have legal protections, Jones and her team could help find a pro-bono lawyer. In Indiana, where there are no legal protections, they could rally around the person and get the media involved.
"We provide education, support and structure to the otherwise terrible things we experience that can turn into local, state and national change for the LGBTQ community," said Jones. "This includes spreading awareness of what America's LGBTQ working class population looks like, and bringing LGBTQ people to the ballot box and streets to flex their power."
Currently, there are seven other people in leadership at the National LGBTQ Workers Center. Among those are board members Andrea Hart and Denechia Powell.
"I joined the board because of personal experiences and those of my community," said Hart. "I believe we need to have a space that centers LGBTQ workers, especially queer and trans POCs, if we are really going to improve rights and conditions for all workers. Oftentimes the national conversation on justice in the workplace focuses on more privileged workers in big cities. The lens we are using to organize and empower workers I think can benefit everyone."
"I got involved because I am fed up with being exploited in the workplace because of my identities as a working-class Black queer non-binary person," said Powell. "I am tired of my Black trans, non-binary and queer friends and I being chronically unemployed and underemployed despite our myriad skills and talents. I joined the board to become more proactive in building an economy that actually works for me and the people I love."
Recently, Jones worked with the Movement Advancement Project ( MAP ) to co-author a report, "LGBT People in the Workplace: Demographics, Experiences and Pathways to Equity." The report is, according to Jones, designed for funders and others not impacted by these issues so they can understand the obstacles LGBTQ people face in the workplace and the need for an organization like the National LGBTQ Workers Center.
See www.lgbtqworkerscenter.org/ for more information and/or to make a donation.