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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 26, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 26
A Rainbow Flag over the Space Needle
Section One
ALL STORIES
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A Rainbow Flag over the Space Needle

by Cleve Jones - Special to the SGN

When the Rainbow Flag was first unfurled high atop Seattle's Space Needle in 2010, I was thrilled. I've always loved Seattle and have many friends living there. Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag, is one of my oldest and dearest buddies; he let me help him dye the fabric for the very first flags back in 1978 in San Francisco. I was excited to see the beautiful photos of the Rainbow Flag on the mast of the iconic structure and knew that Gilbert would be delighted.

Gilbert and I were both friends with Harvey Milk. Harvey lived just long enough to see the first Rainbow Flags, which Gilbert raised over United Nations Plaza on San Francisco's Pride Day in 1978, five months before Harvey was assassinated in City Hall.

Harvey was more than a friend and neighbor for Gilbert and me. He was our leader and political mentor. Harvey taught us the importance of coming out and that our campaign for LGBT equality was part of the larger global struggle for peace and social justice. Harvey believed in coalition building with other minority communities, feminists, environmentalist and especially labor unions.

Harvey worked closely with organized labor. First with the Teamsters during the Coors Beer boycott, when the boycott successfully pushed Coors out of almost every Gay bar in North America, especially in San Francisco and Seattle, costing the company's right-wing owners millions of dollars.

A few years later, Harvey worked with the teachers unions to defeat the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6), which would have banned LGBT people and our supporters from working in California's public schools. Both of those campaigns are depicted in Gus Van Sant's iconic Academy Award-winning film, Milk.

Earlier this month, Space Needle workers walked away in frustration after a month of unsuccessful negotiations with their employer. Now without a union contract for over three years, the workers want pay increases, protections against subcontracting and union rights.

Like my own city of San Francisco, Seattle is facing increasingly higher costs of living, particularly in housing. Low-wage workers and middle-class families are struggling to keep their heads above water. A union contract can make all the difference.

I met with the Space Needle workers during a recent visit to Seattle and was struck by their dedication to their jobs despite the ongoing dispute. It's scary to stand up against your boss. And it sure doesn't help when your employer sends you a link to a webinar called 'How to Live on Less' and your last raise four years ago was 35 cents.

Earlier this year the National Labor Relations Board found that Space Needle management had committed five violations of federal labor law in the years since they terminated the union contract. The NLRB also ordered the reinstatement of two Space Needle employees who had been fired for union organizing activities.

I work for UNITE HERE International Union. Our Seattle affiliate, Local 8, is fighting for a union contract and fair treatment for Space Needle workers. Our union has a long and proud history of standing with the LGBT community. In fact, UNITE HERE was the first major union in the United States to endorse full equality for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law. This year, UNITE HERE affiliates will be marching in over thirty Pride celebrations across the United States and Canada.

UNITE HERE also stands up for LGBT workers in some of the most conservative and homophobic areas of the country, where LGBT rights are nonexistent. Collective bargaining agreements negotiated by UNITE HERE provide protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for tens of thousands of workers, even in states like Georgia, Texas and Louisiana.

Gilbert Baker currently lives in New York. I spoke with him this week and asked him what he thought about his Rainbow Flag flying over the Space Needle. He agreed that the photographs were stunning.

But pretty pictures don't pay the rent or put food on the table. Gilbert was very clear when he said, 'The Rainbow Flag should not be used to mask injustices against workers.'

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