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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 27, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 09
Historic labor forum on Trans workers' rights
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Historic labor forum on Trans workers' rights

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'What we're doing will change lives - guaranteed!' Ingersoll Gender Center founder Marsha Botzer told a gathering of labor activists on February 12. 'It will change lives - it might even save a life.'

Botzer was speaking at a first-of-its-kind forum on Transgender workers' rights, hosted by the Washington State Labor Council at its new Jackson Street headquarters.

Sixty labor leaders and rank and file activists came together for a presentation by Botzer and Ingersoll board member and SEIU 775 staffer Heather Villanueva, followed by discussion.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray kicked off the evening with a statement of support and a story about fighting for Transgender protections in his LGBT civil rights legislation, which ultimately passed in 2006.

More still needs to be done, Murray added.

'This is the side of the mountain,' the Mayor said. 'The view is incredible, we've come a long way, but it's not the top of the mountain.'

Botzer shared her experience transitioning as a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union. 'My union brothers and sisters were there for me, they supported me,' she said, 'so this labor forum is very personal.'

In their presentation, Botzer and Villanueva highlighted the challenges faced by Trans workers:

o 72% report harassment on the job.

o 21% report being fired because of their status.

o 10% say they have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity.

o 14% of Trans people are unemployed, double the rate for the general population.

o 28% of Trans people of color are unemployed.

Nevertheless, 78% of all Transgender workers report feeling more comfortable at work after coming out.

The challenge for organized labor is to protect Trans workers after they do come out, and that will require appropriate contract language and an understanding of how to resolve problems in a way that makes Trans workers feel safe and supported on the job.

Unfortunately, while most union contracts protect sexual orientation, many do not explicitly protect Trans workers. Nevertheless, union leaders expressed a desire to address the needs of their Trans members at work and in the larger society. This forum for union leaders was designed to begin a conversation about how to do that.

It was attended by WSLC President Jeff Johnson and WSLC Secretary-Treasurer Lynne Dodson, as well as officers and staff of a number of local unions. Several participants expressed a desire to host similar events for their locals.

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