Things are getting very dark in this country, and it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. At every turn—as collective society breaks down, as the ruling class continues to rob us blind, as humanity barrels towards climate catastrophe—working people are being encouraged to turn on each other and to see certain groups of their fellow workers as the enemy. From the demonization and increasingly violent attacks against LGBTQIA+ people, to an extremist-dominated Supreme Court preparing to strip away queer people’s right to marry, to legislatures around the country working to eliminate trans people’s right to exist, we must respond to these assaults on our neighbors and coworkers with the same spirit of solidarity that gives life to labor’s eternal message: an injury to one is an injury to all. In this special and urgent episode, we speak with Gabbi Pierce and Martha Grevatt about how far the labor movement has come in defending the rights of LGBTQIA+ workers, how far we still have to go, and what role the labor movement can and must play in fighting for dignity and equality for all.
Gabbi Pierce is an organizer with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), co-chair of Pride at Work—Twin Cities, and she is the first transgender person to serve on the Minnesota AFL-CIO General Board. Martha Grevatt is a retired autoworker and member of the United Auto Workers (UAW); she formerly served as Executive Board member for UAW Locals 122 and 869 and was a founding member of Pride at Work.
Pre-production/Studio: Maximillian Alvarez
Post-production: Jules Taylor
Additional links/info below…
- Gabbi’s Twitter page
- Communication Workers of America website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Martha’s Facebook page and Workers World author page
- United Auto Workers website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Unite All Workers for Democracy website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Pride at Work website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Kelly Hayes, Movement Memos, “Attacks on Trans Rights and Abortion Rights Are ‘Bound Together‘”
- Kelly Hayes, Movement Memos, “Attacks on Trans Youth Are a Fascist ‘Moral Battering Ram’“
- Molly Shah, The Real News Network, “Supreme Court’s Hearings on Abortion Bans Are an Ominous Sign of What’s Coming“
- Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, “How LGBTQ Union Activists Transformed the Labor Movement“
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org)
- Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Gabbi Pierce: Hey. Yeah, I’m Gabbi Pierce, I am a trans union organizer, and I’m on the general board of the Minnesota State AFL-CIO, and co-chair of the Pride at Work Twin Cities chapter as well. I’m real into organizing around trans and queer issues in labor, and trans rights are workers’ rights. I want to work to make sure that shows up in the way we organize in our unions.
Martha Grevatt: My name is Martha Grevatt, I’ve been a member of the United Auto Workers since 1987. I worked 23 years at a Chrysler plant in Twinsburg, Ohio, which is south of Cleveland. At that time I served on the executive board of Local 122. That plant closed, I followed my job to Michigan, to the Warren stamping plant near Detroit. I also served on the executive board of UAW Local 869. I retired from the auto industry in 2019, but I remain active with the union. I’m also a founding board member of Pride at Work, which was founded in 1994 on the 25th anniversary weekend commemorating the Stonewall Rebellion. While in Michigan, I was vice president of Pride at Work Michigan. I’m active in some local struggles here in Cleveland, and I’m also a managing editor of a socialist newspaper, Workers World. I’m currently on the steering committee of Unite All Workers for Democracy, which is a reform caucus inside the UAW.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right, well welcome everyone to another episode of Working People. A podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
We’ve got a really special and really urgent episode for you all today. I could not be more honored to be joined by our amazing guests Gabbi and Martha, who you just heard right there in the introduction. We’ve been wanting to put this episode together for a while, but understandably there’s a lot of really dark shit happening in the country right now. That’s actually in large part why we wanted to put this episode together. We obviously, on this show, spend a lot of time talking to workers about their lives, their jobs, their dreams, their struggles. Their individual struggles, their struggles on the shop floor, and the larger struggles that we all face in our own way, living in a rigged economy and a vicious capitalist culture that teaches all of us to see each other as enemies and competitors and not as coworkers and community members and comrades.
I think that in the stories that we share on this show, you really see the effects of that vicious culture, that vicious economic system. But there are also some that maybe you don’t see depending on who you are and where you’re from and the kind of life that you live. But we all need to be very clear about the situation that we are in in this country right now. I’m sure anyone who listens to this show knows and understands the severity of what is happening. It didn’t happen overnight, this is a long brewing assault on our LGBTQ siblings. It is a full-fledged assault on the rights and humanity of our coworkers and our neighbors and partners and community members that has taken many forms. In state legislatures across the country, trans people are having their rights stripped and their existence basically written out of legal existence in a way that I can only really describe as genocidal, in the hopes that we can just erase trans people from our society.
But also, we know that the kind of rhetoric that we’re seeing, especially from the right wing, but it’s online where people are really targeting and dehumanizing LGBTQ people. It’s not an accident that far-right assholes are showing up at Pride events, that they’re showing up at drag story time events. Really toxic and vicious shit, painting LGBTQ people as “groomers” in the hopes that society will turn against them. And once that happens, unspeakable evils can happen without anyone really taking notice or caring about it. So we have to fight against this as much as we possibly can.
I really wanted to get Gabbi and Martha on the show today so that we could address this in the way that we best know how: Talking from the ground floor of the labor movement and building on up. I think what we really wanted to do today is mainly talk about what we can all do, what role the labor movement itself can and should play in fighting to defend and expand the rights and liberties and dignity of our LGBTQ siblings. Also, what within the labor movement needs to be done to better understand that this fight is all of our fight, and to improve where the labor movement has failed in the past to adequately defend LGBTQ workers.
With all that upfront, I want to do a shortened version of what we normally do on this show, which is to get to know a bit more about Gabbi and Martha before we wade into these heavy but important topics. But I could not be more excited to have Gabbi and Martha on to help us navigate this, and I’m really, really grateful to them for the time.
Yeah, I guess why don’t we start there? Let’s get to know a little more about you both, the kind of work that you do, how you got into organizing as a part of the labor movement, and what your experience has been, or what you’ve seen the experiences of other LGBTQ workers has been during your time as a worker in the movement.
Gabbi Pierce: I got my start in labor organizing by unionizing my former workplace, a climate org called Sunrise Movement. In that, I found just a great sense of empowerment around trans and queer worker issues. When we bargained our contract, we were able to include language establishing protections for trans people. I think I just found that unions can really accomplish a lot for trans and queer workers and win us a lot of the things that we need that politicians are failing to deliver. I think that through labor organizing, we can start to implement a lot of the changes that we need by utilizing the power that workers have, because workers do hold the power if we claim it and take it back. Through doing that and through our collective strength, we can really, I think, make a lot happen.
That’s I think what I found at my entry point to labor organizing and since then I’ve made it a big mission of mine to give effort toward supporting non-unionized trans workers in unionization, training them up on how to unionize, supporting them in initiating campaigns. If we’re unionized, we’ve got more protections, we’ve got people who have our backs, and we have collective strength, and I think there’s a lot of value in that.
Martha Grevatt: Well, my story’s a little bit different from Gabbi’s because it begins several decades ago. Around 1989 I was outed on the job and came out. To be queer, to be a lesbian in the auto industry at that time was not a popular position to take. There was a lot of sexual harassment, and I’ll say that I’m a tool and die maker, which is a skilled trade, very male dominated. I spoke out against some of the sexism, and then the queerbaiting started. Just one example, there was a spray can with the label taken off, and this bigoted coworker wrote on there, “dyke repellent.” I complained, I complained to the union. The union asked him to stop, he didn’t stop. I complained to management, management wouldn’t stop it. It just went on and on, multiple incidents of harassment, both sexist and homophobic.
Continuing this struggle for a number of years, when I found out that Pride at Work was having a founding convention – We hadn’t chosen the name yet, at the time it was just the National Gay and Lesbian Labor Organization – But the convention voted to make it the National Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender Labor Organization. Then subsequently we had a steering committee that adopted the name Pride at Work, and that has been with us all this time. In 1997, the AFL-CIO made us an official constituency group, so we joined the coalition of Labor Union Women, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, A. Philip Randolph Institute, and Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement as a fifth constituency group.
I’ve been involved on and off with Pride at Work over the years. After Pride at Work was founded, we wanted some kind of campaign to show that we are an advocate for queer workers and to get us some visibility. So our first campaign was to pressure Chrysler to add sexual orientation. At the time we weren’t as focused on gender identity, gender expression as we should have been, but we had several gay workers along with myself that needed this protective language. The company absolutely refused in 1996 to add that to the contract in the non-discrimination language. So we launched a pressure campaign and we picketed dealerships, we picketed a national convention of Chrysler dealers and, between contracts, they agreed to a memorandum of understanding, which is an addendum to a contract that the non-discrimination language – It was called The Equal Application Agreement – Did include sexual orientation.
Then in 1999, it was finally added to the contract. They didn’t agree to domestic partner benefits, but they agreed to do a study. Then myself and the then executive director of Pride at Work, we traveled to Detroit and we met with top UAW leaders and gave them a lot of literature explaining the need for domestic partner benefits, and also that it would not be very costly. So in 2000, the Detroit auto makers did agree to extend health insurance to domestic partners. At the time, that was years before the legalization of marriage equality, so that was very important for us to have our partners covered.
I’ve been involved with those struggles about 20 years ago and remain committed to keeping the labor movement fighting for our rights as LGBTQIA+2S+ people.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. I mean, that’s just such an incredible story to hear and really puts into perspective how long this fight has been, how recent it was that we got even a modicum of equality and respect for queer workers at the job. Now it’s like we took one tiny step in that direction, and the backlash is fierce. But yeah, I mean, I think that this is something that has come up in conversations that we’ve had, particularly with younger workers who maybe don’t know because they weren’t around just how bad things still were in the ’90s and early aughts Just because the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage doesn’t mean that battle was suddenly over. As we are watching happen right now, that fundamental right is very much on the chopping block with this unelected super legislature in the Supreme Court right now that is taking a battering ram to human rights and civil rights left and right.
Picking up on what you were saying, Martha, and toss it back to you, Gabbi, and ask what it’s been like for you in the younger generation of workers coming up. What sorts of issues have you found as a worker and as an organizer? Martha mentioned the term “visibility”. What sorts of issues that LGBTQ workers face that maybe aren’t visible to others? But also I think one other thing that people need to remember is, well, we’re still workers. We all have a lot of the same issues. In many ways, the issue is not carving us out of the rest of the movement. But I wanted to toss things back to you and ask how it’s been coming up for you as a worker and organizer in a different generation.
Gabbi Pierce: Yeah. I mean, trans folks at work face a whole lot of issues. I mean, two-thirds of us report being closeted at our jobs, which is in large part due to the fact that a lot of us are fired for our gender identity. There’s this fundamental concern in our jobs of, is my identity going to lose me work? That’s a really scary thing, and it’s a really vulnerable position to be in, especially when oftentimes you might be the only trans person at your job. For a while, I was the only trans woman at my last job, and that gets rough sometimes.
I think another thing I’d say is that I think trans issues have been left on the sidelines of the broader LGBTQ fight. I think that’s something that is starting to change, and that’s a good thing to see, I think. Trans issues are starting to be more centered in the way we organize as an LGBTQIA+ community. Being in that moment is nice. I think that we’re starting to see some more change happen right now. That definitely gives me a little bit of hope.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. I mean, there have been some really incredible examples of struggle and solidarity that I think can give us hope in these very dark times. Just one example that I always think about is I was in the hotel room downtown here in Baltimore when the National Labor Relations board was counting the votes for what would become the first unionized Starbucks in Maryland down on Charles Street, the Starbucks location here in Baltimore. After they swept – I don’t think there was a single no vote in that election – I got to chat with a number of the partners there, three of whom are trans.
They said explicitly that it became known that this was a place where, as a trans worker, you would be among other trans workers, and that meant a whole lot. They talked about why that was so important for their organizing, because they were like, we didn’t want to leave. It was important for us to have this kind of workplace, and so we wanted to take what we liked about our job and lock it into a contract, a union contract where we could bargain for our needs with the company. But on top of that, they also mentioned the healthcare benefits that you get at Starbucks being a lifeline as trans workers. And, despicably, we’ve seen Starbucks threaten to pull those away from workers who are fighting for unionization. I can hardly think of a more disgusting tactic, but Starbucks is really sinking to new lows every single day.
But I think that’s one thing that maybe, again, folks on the outside, folks who maybe are cis, straight, don’t think about this as much as perhaps they should. You might not see that. Like Martha said, even when Martha and her coworkers were organizing in the ’90s to get those essential spousal benefits that did not translate to queer partners. That’s really important. And yet, just getting that up to the level of visibility for people to understand that this is part of our collective fight, an essential part of our collective fight, if indeed an injury to one is an injury to all, that’s a Herculean effort.
I wanted to maybe roll that into the discussion of the internal side of the labor movement. How are we doing? How far has the movement come? How far does it still have left to go? I wanted to ask if you all could talk a little bit, before we talk about the role the labor movement can have broadly fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights, how the movement itself has evolved on this and where it needs to go farther.
Martha Grevatt: Well, in terms of understanding, I think the labor movement has advanced quite a bit since I was outed around 1989 in terms of the statements that might come out of the AFL-CIO or affiliated unions, or even some of what they bargain for in contracts. I think there’s much more acceptance of the fact that this is a labor issue. But on the other hand, having good positions on paper only goes so far. For example, these laws being passed that attack trans youth, these youth, many of them are children of labor union members. Many of them, if they aren’t driven to suicide or some horrible situation, are future union members. We want them to make it to adulthood and into the labor movement. So these laws are a labor issue, and why can’t the labor movement call a demonstration as the labor movement in the name of the working class in solidarity with trans youth? Why can’t they use their power at the point of production to act in solidarity with trans youth and with trans workers like the trans workers at Starbucks?
Our mainstream labor movement, it’s too conservative. There’s a lot of charges of business unionism. We don’t have a tradition of political strikes as many other countries have that tradition. Mayday 2006 was a day without immigrants. That was a political strike, but that didn’t grow out of the labor movement, it grew out of the immigrant rights movement. It was a political strike against the passage of Taft Hartley law in 1947. About a quarter million auto workers in Detroit walked off the job. But those examples are few and far between, and we need to be willing to use our only real power, which is our power as workers, because nothing in this country or in this world moves without the working class. We’ve got to have a more advanced view of how labor can show solidarity with our community and any oppressed communities.
Also, the deplorable comments by Justice Clarence Thomas after Roe v. Wade was overturned, basically threatened to take away marriage equality. Well, the labor movement has to be prepared to make sure that we have the same protections for our partners that we have when we have the right to marry. That if this right is taken away, that we’re not going to lose those benefits. Because some of them in the auto industry, after the Obergefell decision, they took away domestic partner benefits and said to get those benefits you had to get married. You had to marry your partner, because that was required of heterosexual employees. But Pride at Work’s position was always the other way around. That everyone’s partner should be covered, whether they’re married or not, regardless of their sexuality or their gender. No one should be without healthcare because they can’t get married or because they opt not to marry.
Gabbi Pierce: I think that in some areas there’s a lot of good things happening in the labor movement around trans issues and some initial first steps being taken. I recently spoke as the first trans woman to speak at the AFL-CIO convention. That invitation was a nice gesture, and it was a good opportunity to be able to address trans issues in labor. But also we need more than just a presence in the room and acknowledgement of our struggle. We need real action in the fight for trans liberation. It’s not only something that we can do as a labor movement, it’s something that we must do.
It’s our responsibility as a labor movement, I think, because as union organizers, our job is to fight for the workers that make up our unions, and that means that so long as trans workers are suffering, so long as we’re dying, so long as we lack the rights and protections we deserve, our work as a labor movement isn’t done. While there’s good steps being made in the right direction, there’s definitely still a lot that needs to be done, and we need to start backing words with action and resources and real energy.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. I think that really raises a question, by way of getting us to the topic of okay, now what role can the movement play in this broader necessary fight as the attacks from the reactionary right wing increase? But by way of getting there, there’s, I think, a really important issue that keeps cropping up. If it exhausts me, I can only imagine how much it exhausts you both. But I feel like it crops up every other month, it’s like a weed in our discourse that applies both to the labor movement and to politics writ large in this country. Even now as we head towards the midterm elections and everyone’s expecting the Democrats to get their asses whooped unless they do something drastic quick.
But you see the consultant class, the people buzzing around Washington DC coming up with their brilliant plan to “avoid culture war issues” and just focus on “kitchen table issues.” Stop talking about trans people, stop talking about queer people. That just alienates this mythical white, suburbanite, middle of the road voter who can be swayed one way or the other by being asked to recognize the humanity of their neighbors. Yet that’s what the political consultant class is really banking on. But it’s such a sinister move that just never goes away because people just always feel like, okay, if we just focus on raising wages and put everything else to the side, then we can build this big tent coalition without “alienating” people.
I know that even within labor this can be a really big issue, where folks may feel like in bargaining we just need to focus on our wages and retirement packages and not worry about issues of harassment or accessibility for our members, or something like that. Like those are “special issues” that don’t apply to the whole membership. I know that folks who are listening to this are probably still hearing this bullshit, and I just wanted to ask you both what your take is on that, how we can get folks to get out of that mindset? Staying within the context of the labor movement for now, and then we’ll zoom out to the broader political landscape.
Martha Grevatt: Well, what that brings to mind for me, about 15 or so years ago, there seemed to be a message coming out of the AFL-CIO to rank and file and grassroots organizers, and it was avoid the three Gs: God, guns, and gays. I had to tell people off. I am not a letter of the alphabet to be avoided. I am a human being, I am a dues-paying union member. When you look at all the human beings that face some sort of discrimination or another, whether it’s sexism, or transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and racism, that is the majority of humanity, and that is the majority of the working class, and that is the majority of the labor movement. The majority of the labor movement does face one or more types of discrimination, and it is a workplace issue. It is the number one tool of the bosses to divide us.
This mindset of, let’s just focus on economics, let’s just focus on bread and butter issues, let’s just focus on what we can all agree on. Well, that just leaves a big facet of the working class struggle out and lets that struggle go unfought, and it leaves everybody behind and perpetuates inequality. It is really antagonistic to the most rudimentary concepts of solidarity, of an injury to one is an injury to all. That viewpoint, it has to be fought by everyone with any kind of consciousness. But we do want to fight for a living wage, we want decent health benefits, we want to get rid of two-tier. We want protection from plant closings and job loss. We want all those things. When my plant closed, it affected me as much as all of my coworkers. These are working class issues that affect us, and we want to fight on these issues and unite around these issues. But not at the expense of our basic civil rights, but in tandem with the struggle for civil rights.
Gabbi Pierce: Yeah, something that I’ve heard before in the labor movement is this idea of like, oh, I don’t know if we should talk too much about trans issues because that might not land well with some people. That’s always been really agitating to me, because my transness isn’t some sort of debate or controversy like people are making it out to be. I’ve seen the term “the trans debate” floating around on the internet. I’m like, what debate? I’m just a person, and I’m just asking for my personhood and my humanity to be recognized. Not just to be seen as valid and human, but to be able to live with dignity and respect. We’ve got to get past this point of seeing transness as some sort of political debate.
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t even be a political thing to be trans, because I’m not trans because I’m trying to make some sort of political show or take a side in a debate. I’m trans because I’m trans, that’s just who I am as a person. We need to recognize what it means to be trans and the depth of it as a labor movement, and really stand and fight for that.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, I think you both really hit the nail on the head. I mean, for anyone listening who’s still grappling with this, I think Martha made the perfect point that it was just like, listen, guy who’s listening to this. When it comes down to it, if you want to fall for the same fucking – Pardon my language – Same fucking trap that the bosses have been luring us into since time immemorial, which is divide and conquer, seeing your fellow workers or segments of your fellow workers whether they be undocumented workers, whether they be newly freed slaves, whether they be Asian workers who have migrated over in the 19th century, whether they be LGBTQIA+ workers, that side of the story is not new. They have been finding ways to divide us and conquer us since the beginning of the movement.
If you want to keep falling into the same goddamn trap, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how much more proof you need to see that this is how they win. Even just from a strategic point of view, if you want workers to actually win something and actually have power that can counteract the power of the boss and on and so forth, then our power, as always, as Gabbi and Martha have already said, our power is collective. That is working people’s greatest power, our collective ability to stand together, withhold our labor, show solidarity, and take on the bosses as a group. You’re not helping yourself, you’re not helping anyone with that bullshit. So if you’re not going to do it for your coworkers who are different from you, at least do it for your damn self. And if you can’t get past that, I don’t know what else to tell you.
But then on the other side, Gabbi also pointed out, it’s just like, why is this a goddamn debate? In what world is it okay to consider within the broad sweep of what we as a labor movement should do, if one of the questions is like, well, are we going to recognize the humanity of some of our workers or not? If you’ve asked that question you’ve already fucking lost, in my opinion. I’m saying this as a cis, straight, hetero person who is trying to do my best to get folks to band together and stand up for one another. But yeah, I think the way that Gabbi put it is really what I want everyone to sit with. What debate are we having here? Debating the humanity and the rights and dignity of any of our fellow workers should not be on the fucking table, ever, end of sentence.
Again, zooming out, we see how this is working not just in the workplace, but it is a really vicious and persistent political evil that the ruling class serving forces in politics and the media. Just like the bosses, they know how to turn us against one another. Republicans know that every time an election comes up, they’ll find a migrant caravan to spook everyone out about because the immigrants are coming to take your jobs. Or, as we’re seeing right now, they will stoke as much vicious hatred towards one segment of the population or another, and they are laser focused on attacking and vilifying LGBTQIA+ folks right now. If you are just staying silent and hoping it will go away right now, you are letting the evil in, and we can’t do that.
I’m almost at a loss for words in stressing to people that way lies destruction for all of us. We have to stand up for one another and push forcefully back against this, and that’s where I wanted us to end up. It’s really been incredible talking to you both about this. I wanted to really put things into perspective for folks right now as we slip further into a very, very dark decade and a very dark century, I think. I wanted to ask, as I think Martha put it, there’s a really important frame here that it’s not just LGBTQIA+ workers, and then other issues are over here. Workers are also consumers, workers are also community members. I mean, there are so many ways that our roles in society overlap and our concerns can’t just be segmented into one box or the other.
I wanted to ask you both as workers, but also as citizens, human beings on this earth, in this country, how bad is it right now? What do you think folks out there who are maybe trying to block it out, who are maybe thinking, oh, this is happening in red states but not in my state? Before we round out in talking about what the labor movement can do to fight the evil that we are seeing grip the country and beyond, I wanted to ask if we could name that evil a bit and really make sure that people listening to this understand how bad it is getting out there for LGBTQIA+ folks around the country.
Gabbi Pierce: Things are really bleak, to say the least, for trans people right now. In the first six months of 2022 alone, 14 trans people have already been killed in hate crimes, and in 2021, the number was a record breaking 50. I mean, in 35 states I think, trans hate crimes, murders, can be excused through the panic defense, and shit’s really bad. There is an all out assault by the right wing on trans people, and they’re gearing up to make transphobia one of their central rallying platform points in midterms and the presidential election. So far I think the Democratic Party has not really been showing up adequately in defense of us. We as a labor movement then need to take it upon ourselves to defend trans people, because we’re going to need it. Things are really bad, they’re maybe probably going to get worse before they get better. But there is also opportunity to fight back and win if we embrace our strength and collective power and stand for the humanity of all of our fellow workers.
Martha Grevatt: Well, thanks Gabbi. There’s not a lot I could really add to that except that if we as workers, if we don’t actively show solidarity with the trans community, then it’s like that old famous quote about first they came for one group and I didn’t care, I wasn’t in that group. And then they came for another and I didn’t care. And then when they came for me there was no one left to fight for me. If we don’t challenge the horrendous attacks on the trans community, then we are doing everyone a disservice because the fascists will not stop with the trans community. They’re not limiting their attacks to the trans community now. We are all under siege by the ultra right, but also by mainstream Democrats who are basically inept when it comes to pushing back the right wing, as we’re seeing right now.
It’s going to take a united working-class movement that is in solidarity with the trans community and everyone under siege. We’ve all got to unite. It’s like they can cut off the fingers of the hand, but when they form a fist, they can’t cut off any fingers of any hand. We’ve got to form that fist and join hands and push back what the, as you said, the capitalists are doing to us. It’s weak in a sense, and whether you say, oh, it’s just red states. Well, my state is a red state. A lot of us live in the states where we’re trans people and the LGBTQ2SIA+ community is under siege. It’s hopeful, too, because there’s hope for resistance and for making real change in the world and bringing about the kind of world we want to live in.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, that was beautifully put by both of you. While I have you both – And then I promise we’ll wrap up because I can’t keep you all for much longer – But it does have me thinking. I’ve heard this from some folks, particularly younger workers, who see the attack, especially on trans folks and trans workers. It feels like a new thing, and so they’re trying to figure out how to deal with it, when I think we need to learn as much as we can from the failures and successes of the past.
Martha, I wanted to ask you, having so much of that experience as a queer worker yourself, an organizer, someone who was outed on the job and had to fight for recognition in a very different cultural climate. Again, younger folks may not know this because it was different when you were growing up in school. But I mean, even when I was in school, the expletives and derogatory terms about gay people were flying left and right. It was very much a cultural norm. It was still very acceptable to target and bully and make fun of non-straight people. Anyone who was different from you. I want us to be very clear that it’s not like this is some random thing that popped up, a historical anomaly. This is the long, heavy arc of injustice that has been with us for a long time.
Martha, I wanted to ask if you had any thoughts that folks in the movement today need to understand and learn about how the bosses and politicians used anti-gay sentiments to hurt workers, hurt the movement, and what lessons we can learn from the struggle that you’ve been involved in to fight against that?
Martha Grevatt: Well, if things are better now, it’s because people in the past fought to make them better. If they were better for me in 1989 than they were in the ’60s, it’s because of the struggles like the Compton Cafeteria Riot and the Stonewall Rebellion that made things even where I could even think about coming out on the job, as difficult as it was. I owe that to the fighters of previous generations. The thing is that no right is truly safe that you’re not willing to fight to defend. There’s been lots of ups and downs in the struggle, and something that we won in 1973, Roe v. Wade, was just taken away. What you win can also be taken away if you don’t have an understanding that you have to fight and keep fighting and keep fighting to hold onto the rights you have and expand them. That’s the lesson of history, of labor history, queer history, women’s history, the Civil Rights Movement that inspired all these other movements. Now we see even something as basic as voting rights are under siege. So we just have to be very vigilant.
I did also want to say, Gabbi, that you’re absolutely right that the failings of the mainstream gay movement on the question of trans liberation, that’s not fictitious, that’s a real thing. It really set back understanding and unity and solidarity. I’m glad that there’s more unity in the movement now for everyone who’s oppressed for their sexuality or their gender or gender identity. But that was a problem because somebody might say, oh, some of my best friends are gay, but I don’t know about that trans stuff. It was very divisive. It’s just another way that one movement inside the movement is being divided. We just have to reject any kind of division that comes from the bosses.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. By way of rounding out, again, I can’t thank you all enough for joining me and walking us through this important conversation. We’re sending nothing but love and solidarity to you both and to all of our fellow workers out there who are hurting, who are not getting the solidarity that they need. We see you, we love you, we are with you.
On that note, Gabbi and Martha, I wanted to give you all the last word and ask if you had any final thoughts on what role the labor movement can and needs to play in this larger, necessary, historical struggle for rights and dignity and equality? But also if you had any final notes for folks listening about how they can better be soldiers in that struggle and stand up for one another in their daily lives, in their workplaces, anyone who’s listening to this who wants to stand up for their coworkers, anything you wanted to say to them.
Gabbi Pierce: I think to close out with some of my thoughts, I’d say things are bleak right now. Trans people are dying, suffering. There’s a war waged against our very personhood. But a better world has to be possible, because our lives depend on making that world a reality. And we can win a world where no one’s humanity is up for debate, where we can all live truthfully and peacefully, free from hate and violence. Where anyone can walk outside into the world without fear because of who they are. We have to win that world, and we have the power to do that. We have the power as workers to claim our collective strength and build a world that works for us. Not the people on top who have propped themselves up on legacies of hate and violence and exploitation. Let’s mobilize, let’s start conversations in our unions about our plans to fight for our trans family, and let’s get real about the stakes of what’s going on and stand for the humanity of our coworkers, our comrades, and win this fight.