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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 24, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 25
Legendary activist Cleve Jones visits Seattle June 28th
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Legendary activist Cleve Jones visits Seattle June 28th

by Mike Andrew-
SGN Staff Writer

Cleve Jones - creator of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt and co-chair of the October 2009 National Equality March on Washington, D.C. - will be in Seattle for a community forum on Tuesday, June 28.

'Seattle is one of my favorite cities,' he told SGN. 'Seattle was extremely supportive of the quilt. That means a lot to me.'

Jones is now an organizer with UNITE HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union, and will be the featured speaker at a community forum organized by UNITE HERE Local 8, Pride At Work, Allyship, Ingersoll Center, and Seattle Gay News.

The event will be at Kaladi Brothers Café, 511 E. Pike St., at 4:30 p.m.

UNITE HERE Local 8 represents 4,000 workers in Western Washington, and they are now negotiating new contracts at all their locations.

Jones spoke with SGN by phone on June 22, between speaking engagements.

'UNITE HERE is an amazing example of a fighting union,' he said. 'Now - with attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and everything else that's going on -America needs a fighting labor movement more than ever.'

Four years ago, UNITE HERE Local 8 won a breakthrough victory in their Westin Hotel contract - the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers from on-the-job discrimination.

UNITE HERE's National Executive Committee has also endorsed marriage equality, and Local 8 endorsed domestic partnership rights in the Referendum 71 campaign.

Jones says that building a close working relationship between the LGBT community and the labor movement is his main goal.

'I want to strengthen the bonds between our community and organized labor,' he told SGN, 'because that will strengthen the larger movement for social justice.

'I just got out of a training I'm doing in San Francisco with a couple of dozen young union members, and when we get done I'm going to catch a train to another meeting. I plan to work most of the summer on coalition building.'

Jones noted that many LGBT rights organizations do not apply their progressive politics in a consistent way, failing to book union venues for their events, for example.

'If you care about this country, and we have so many challenges, no matter what your issue is - LGBT issues, or choice, or the environment, or public education - whatever your issue is, you're not going to win without the unions.' Jones challenged LGBT organizations to 'wake up and understand that solidarity is the single most important thing. Sometimes it's inconvenient, but that doesn't change the reality.'

'I was in Palm Springs after the Prop 8 election,' he added, 'and there were all these middle class white Gays complaining, 'So many Latinos voted against us.' So I asked them, 'What have you done? What have you done to build relationships with the Latino community?' but I already knew the answer. Nothing. They did nothing.

'If you want a good example of how to engage the immigrant community and the communities of color, look at my union,' Jones concluded.

UNITE HERE represents large concentrations of immigrant workers and native-born people of color as well as LGBT workers. Their 2007 Westin contract included broad new protections for immigrant workers as well as Trans workers.

Asked if he remained optimistic about winning equality, Jones sighed.

'These are hard times, and I don't want to be Pollyana,' he said. 'I'm required to be hopeful, but I'm very frightened for my country and the planet.'

Speaking about the Obama administration, Jones expressed both appreciation and criticism - appreciation for the advances made under President Obama's watch, and criticism for the slow pace of change.

'Well, I'm frustrated with the administration,' he said. 'I supported the president in 2008, and I will support him and campaign for him. But I'm frustrated.

'I went to the White House with a group of long-term survivors of HIV, for a meeting with the people leading the White House response. And I looked at their faces, and they look like our friends. & They were all Gay, all African-American, and all HIV-positive. That's light years ahead of where the last administration was, and light years ahead of any of his Republican opponents.

'Except maybe Fred Karger,' he chuckled as he signed off to catch his train.

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