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Kate Ekman's labor of love
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

This article shared 6871 times since Fri Apr 11, 2014
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Kate Ekman was officially elected president for Pride at Work Chicago in January, though she had been the acting president since last summer when Levi Pine transferred to Seattle.

Ekman, 36, lives in the Old Irving Park neighborhood and has called Chicago home since 2005. She is originally from Delavan, Wisc., and also has lived in Madison and Southern California.

"Pride at Work Chicago meets monthly to discuss business that is chapter-wide, mostly our large-issue campaigns and to do house-keeping types of stuff. We generally meet on Saturdays, and convene anywhere that we can get some free space and where everyone feels comfortable," Ekman said. "Outside of monthly meetings, members break out into smaller committees to work on specific campaign issues that they feel passionate about, such as, ENDA [the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act]. These committees meet in between chapter meetings and work closely to accomplish specific tasks, bringing together the diverse bodies of knowledge and connections that an inter-union membership organization creates. Then, when the group meets together again, they report back on what they have done and where they may need support. We also do any relevant activities outside of meetings, [such as] phone banks, marches, volunteering, showing up at events to represent, etc.

"I want Pride at Work Chicago to be a known space where queer workers can come for support and to mobilize. My ultimate goal is to help transgender people have full health coverage. I'm not the only one in our group who would like to accomplish this, so I feel the more we learn, the more relationships with people and organizations we develop, the more we become a force to reckon [with] in labor, and the more likely we are to be able to help accomplish this goal."

Ekman said there are multiple projects now underway at Pride at Work Chicago, including participation in the passage of ENDA. "We aren't happy about the religious exclusions in the bill, but realize that with the energy and resources going into it right now, it gives us an exciting opportunity to be part of this fight to get millions of queer and trans folks protected from being fired for something that has nothing to do with their job performance," she said. "This bill has been on the docket for 20 years. In Illinois, it probably isn't on people's radars as much since we already have these protections in our state, but in Pride at Work we're still fighting for it as a national issue."

Other objectives for Pride at Work Chicago include:

— Developing a survey of area unions on LGBTQ benefits, protections and workplace environment. "As far as we know, no one has collected data surrounding the climate for LGBTQ people in unions or workplaces," Ekman said. "We intend to change that so LGBTQ people can better advocate for themselves and one another on the job."

— Preparing for the annual Chicago Dyke March and Chicago Pride Parade.

— Evaluating the group's first presentation at the national Labor Notes conference called Building LGBTQ Worker Power which, she said, "was a great experience."

Ekman said the Chicago chapter is not really reconstituted, "more a reboot or a new version."

"Mel Ferrand was heading the previous iteration from about 10 years ago and told us a little about the history there, but none of the past members are involved at this time. We would certainly welcome them," Ekman said.

There are about 20 active members in Chicago.

"We are growing our base, trying to get representation from as many unions in the Chicago area as possible, [and] we now have people from more than 10 unions, such as Unite Here, UAW, the carpenters union, and more," she said.

Ekman also is the membership coordinator for Unite Here! Local 1, which is an international labor union.

Local 1 represents workers in hotels, airports, casinos, restaurants, convention centers and other in the Chicago and NW Indiana area, with about 17,000 members.

Ekman coordinated Unite Here! Local 1's participation in the annual Pride Parade and the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality last October.

"Away from [the office], I [still] spend a fair amount of free time on Pride at Work stuff," she said. "I'm also learning Spanish. My sister just had a new baby, so I want to spend my time in Wisconsin with the kids. I [also enjoy] riding my bike and taking yoga [classes]; I can't wait for summer. Everything seems possible once I'm not freezing anymore."

Ekman also is an avid photographer and has been for years. Plus, she enjoys traveling and dancing.

"I'm all focused on things during nice weather," she said. "I think of the Hemingway quote 'gradually, then suddenly' and that is how I think about spring. It is happening gradually still right now, but I'm anxious ... I love being outdoors."

The purpose of P@W-Chicago is to mobilize mutual support between the organized labor movement and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. They welcome anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, any union member, and allies.

This article shared 6871 times since Fri Apr 11, 2014
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