This month’s Pride celebrations unfortunately come amidst a troubling backdrop of increasing attacks on LGBTQ people and the Pride movement itself. The ACLU is currently tracking an astounding 491 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. These are proposed laws that attack free speech, access to public accommodations, freedom of expression, education and health care access. This tide of prejudice and bigotry threatens to destroy rights and freedoms won since the modern LGBTQ movement was born at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. 

Workers’ rights are civil rights, and the labor movement is helping LGBTQ workers fight back.

At the RWDSU, we’ve organized workplaces that employ a large number of LGBTQ workers and serve many LGBTQ clients, including sex toy stores Babeland and Pleasure Chest, community non-profit Housing Works, Barnes & Noble, and REI outdoor sporting goods stores; and we hear about the issues these workers face every day. Many LGBTQ workers face harassment and discrimination at their jobs, and often dehumanizing treatment from management. Many bosses think nothing of refusing to address employees by their preferred pronouns, or failing to protect their workers from harassment.

LGBTQ workers tell us they want a workplace that’s safe, and where they will be treated with respect by management, colleagues, and customers. They want their gender expressions appreciated and recognized. They want codes of conduct for customers, management, and contractors to make sure nobody on the job is subjected to harassment, misgendering, and homophobia. They want it recognized that they may have to step off a train or bus if they feel endangered by aggressions from other riders, and that they won’t be held liable for being late due to protecting their own safety and mental wellbeing. 

At employers that espouse progressive values, you’d think this would all be common sense; but unfortunately, you’d be wrong. At REI outdoor sporting goods stores, where workers at stores in New York City, Chicago, and Cleveland have joined the RWDSU, negotiators have been battling management for almost a year to win basic LGBTQ protections. The company has so far refused to agree to any sort of language that prioritizes creating safe spaces for queer workers outside of the bare minimum required by law. One issue that sums up their obstinance is that of nametags; REI workers want their nametags to display a worker’s preferred gender pronoun. It’s a simple request that REI refuses to agree to.

And, in a stunning move, REI cut everybody’s pay on June 1. Was it a coincidence that June is Pride Month? It’s a pointed tone for them to set, as many LGTBQ workers are financially vulnerable. 

The RWDSU will continue fighting for the workers at REI, and will always stand up for all working people. By working together, we can fight back against attacks on our co-workers, family members, and friends, and ensure a world where all working people – regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender – have their voices heard. 

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