June usually marks a joyous month for the LGBTQ+ community and our allies as we reflect on the decades of hard work that our community and movement have put into securing and promoting our civil rights. While this June is no exception, we're also forced to come to terms with the fact that our Constitutional rights remain in jeopardy.
We've already seen what an emboldened right-wing majority on the Supreme Court is willing to do. Last week, the Supreme Court rolled back women and pregnant people's fundamental right to reproductive freedom despite decades of established legal precedent.
That shocking development was a harrowing reminder to LGBTQ+ Americans that the progress we've fought so hard for in courts and communities for decades could be wiped away by a new generation of activist judges more interested in advancing their ideological agenda than understanding and following established case law.
There has never been a more important time to stand up and continue the fight for our fundamental rights and advance the cause of equality. Luckily, here in Illinois, we have a powerful opportunity to do just that this November when Illinois voters will have the opportunity to vote yes for the Workers' Rights Amendment.
The Workers' Rights Amendment will update the Illinois Constitution to guarantee the right to collective bargaining, ensuring workers can join together to negotiate for pay raises, voice safety concerns that can save lives in the workplace, and continue to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ+ Illinoisans.
This is a crucially important opportunity for our community and our entire state. It is also a powerful reminder that workers' rights are queer rights, and in our fight for our equality, collective bargaining agreements were some of the first places LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections existed, long before laws were enacted to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In fact, the first workplace protections for gay people in US history were secured in a collective bargaining agreement - the one secured by the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union. In 1936 the union featured a banner stating "Race-baiting, Red-baiting, and Queer-Baiting is Anti-Union" in its union hall.
The labor movement's commitment to our cause began as early as 1970 when the American Federation of Teachers became the first federal labor union to make a public statement calling for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers. That same year, unions began including anti-discrimination policies in their collective bargaining agreements, and by 1974, two AFSCME locals negotiated collective bargaining agreements that expressly prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In the 1980's, our allies in the labor movement extended their advocacy to protecting our families as well as our workers. In 1982, the staff union at the Village Voice in New York City negotiated an extension of the company health plan to "spouse equivalents." In the mid-1980s, the Columbia clerical local union collectively bargained for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ workers, spousal equivalent bereavement leave, health coverage, and tuition benefits for domestic partners.
And, later that same decade, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union negotiated the addition of "change of sex" to the list of protected classes at an industrial laundry facility after a union steward was harassed at work following her gender reassignment surgery.
It's worth noting no state would pass statewide non-discrimination protections until Wisconsin in 1982. Illinois didn't pass LGBTQ+-inclusive non-discrimination protections until 2005. Before the state legislatures took action, labor unions and queer labor activists were leading the fight for anti-discrimination protections.
That is why Equality Illinois is proud to endorse the Workers' Rights Amendment. In the current environment, we hear anecdotal reports that collective bargaining agreements are sometimes the only protections for LGBTQ+ workers in the 28 states without explicit statutory protections for LGBTQ+ workers.
Should our fundamental rights in the workplace come under the same threats facing reproductive freedom, collective bargaining agreements may be the only significant tool we have to enforce LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination in the workplace.
It is critically important that we win this fight for workers' rights in Illinois this November and keep our state moving backward. Vote Yes for Workers' Rights in the general election.
Brian C. Johnson is the CEO of Equality Illinois