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LGBTQ center kicks off local chapter with economic justice summit
by Melissa Wasserman
2019-09-18

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With a vision to build a queer and trans movement for economic justice, the National LGBTQ Workers Center organized Chicago's LGBTQ Economic Justice Summit, held at SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas ( Chicago office ) on Sept. 7-8.

The National LGBTQ Workers Center is an organization where LGBTQ workers can go to confront workplace discrimination and fight for economic justice.

Established in 2018, its mission has been to create a world where all LGBTQ people understand their rights as workers and have available resources to organize their workplaces and communities.

According to its website, the organization works to create social change, with emphasis on uplifting queer and trans people of color, through issue-based grassroots organizing and labor education.

This effort's Chicagoland chapter, Chicago's LGBTQ Workers Center, launched earlier in 2019 and Chicago's LGBTQ Economic Justice Summit served as a kick-off event where people could learn and connect.

"The purpose was to get people together because I know a lot of times we talk a lot about the LGBTQ rights and just as a community, but we don't often make the connection to our rights as workers and how it affects us in the workplace," said Joan Jones, president of the National LGBTQ Workers Center and the lead organizer for the Chicago LGBTQ Workers Center. "So, I really wanted to begin to build that language; ... I think a lot of this work is talking with existing LGBTQ organizations and allies and really getting to see the effect that discrimination and bias has on our work lives, and thus our ability to survive and thrive in community. I really wanted this to be a place where people can come and orient their experience as an LGBTQ person in context with their experience as a worker, and I feel like that's exactly what it's been."

The first day of Chicago's LGBTQ Economic Justice Summit contained the breakout sessions "Organizing 101: Vision Stories, Worker Power" and "From the Summit to the Streets-Building LGBTQ Worker Political Power." The evening concluded with a "Queer Take Over Happy Hour."

"We went through vision stories where we were talking about what makes us passionate about worker justice now, using our past to inform our present and also think about what the future looks like; what we would desire for a better future for ourselves," said Jones when describing day one.

The second day's agenda included a welcome from Miss Black Trans Kansas 2017-18 and National LGBTQ Workers Center Board Member Nyla Foster, as well as breakout sessions such as "Workers Rights 101, Unions 101, Past Victories: LGBTQ Paid Time Off" and "Protections, and Underground Economies and Queer Trans Workers."

Additionally, attendees were able to get HIV screenings from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, who had a table at the resource fair alongside Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Labor Notes and Raise Chicago. Also along the lines of self-care, if needed, attendees could visit the designated mindfulness space for some quiet time.

"[Sunday] was meant to be more practical strategies, like what's actually happening in the world and how could we get involved," Jones described. "The goal of this entire conference is to figure out what's going to be the brunt of our work for the next year and I feel like it's really served that purpose where people are excited about what they see and want to get involved."

The Workers Rights 101 panel provided perspectives from people of color working on the city, state and national levels. Mona Noriega, Chicago Commission on Human Relations commissioner; Sunu Chandy, legal director at the National Women's Law Center; and Maurice ( Mo ) Green IV, public affairs director at the Illinois Department of Human Rights introduced themselves, shared how each got involved in their work and the meaning of their work as an LGBTQ-identified person. Jones moderated the panel.

In the panel discussion, Noriega shared her own experience of discrimination in the various jobs she has held throughout her life. She stated if someone came to file a complaint with the commission on human relations, "I don't want them to worry that I don't believe them; I do."

"That discrimination is real," Noriega said. "That sexual harassment is real. A point that needs to be made is that sometimes sexual harassment is more pervasive, often times because LGBT people are perceived based on our sexuality.

Noriega emphasized that discrimination is in all levels of employment, and may look different in different fields and types of jobs.

Chandy, visiting from Washington D.C., focused on worker's rights protections, explicit protections for LGBTQ people on the city and state levels and protections for LGBTQ people only through the protections against sex discrimination on the federal level.

Saying it is a critical moment right now for the Supreme Court to do the right thing and confirm for everyone in the country that federal law protects LGBTQ workers, Chandy detailed some specific items she said people should be aware of, including the Equality Act, which could provide clear explicit protections on the federal level; The Oct. 8 arguments of Title VII employment cases where the U.S. Supreme Court will hear and decide whether LGBTQ workers are going to be included or excluded from federal civil rights protections; and the National Women's Law Center's resource for individuals facing sex discrimination to connect people with lawyers through the Legal Network for Gender Equity and to connect those lawyers to funding if it is a case of sex harassment in the workplace or related retaliation in the workplace.

Overall, Jones said they hoped people got a sense of empowerment from the summit.

"If there's one thing I hope folks take away from this, is that their voice matters and it makes a difference when people use their voice to speak out," Jones said.

To learn more about The National LGBTQ Workers Center, visit LGBTQWorkersCenter.org .


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