thumb-2023-07-06-unions-2SLGBTQ This article is more than 10 months old

Canada’s Unions are Organizing to Defend Workers From Far-Right Anti-2SLGBTQ+ Hate Groups

How Canada’s labour movement is fighting a wave of anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate

The Canadian Labour Congress has launched an emergency task force to address escalating anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate as unions across Canada begin mobilizing to defend queer and trans people in workplaces and beyond.

Unionized workplaces, such as libraries and schools, have become battlegrounds in far-right attacks against queer and trans people across the country.

Gina McKay, president of CUPE Manitoba and CLC equity vice president for 2SLGBTQ+ workers, said she’s seen hate affect workers at many levels, from hostile parents to anti-drag protests to book bans.

But the role of unions goes beyond protecting individual workers facing this hate in the workplace. The labour movement has the power to mobilize on-the-ground support, something the 2SLGBTQ+ community needs right now, McKay explained.

“That kind of organizing is exactly what we need because we know that the right is organized,” McKay told PressProgress.

“We have the ability to mobilize workplaces, communities and families. We have this opportunity to really be action-oriented in each of the regions and communities across Canada.”

At the 30th Constitutional Convention in May, the CLC’s solidarity and pride caucus “identified that there was a need to address the rising hate and to take a look at what the CLC could do,” McKay said.

As a result, the CLC passed an emergency anti-hate resolution to develop tangible strategies to combat rising hate and violence against the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

The resolution has three components: Condemning attacks against workers and communities that support 2SLGBTQ+ events and identities, creating flying squads to support workers affected by such attacks, and establishing an emergency task force to develop health and safety guidelines for union affiliates.

“Workers have the right to deny unsafe environments,” McKay said. “We know that as a fundamental health and safety right. Yet, when it transfers over to 2SLGBTQ+ hate, for some reason it becomes a blurred line.”

In a 2022 CLC survey on harassment and violence in Canadian workplaces, 2SLGBTQ+ workers were more likely to have experienced harassment and violence at work. The same survey also found that 73% of gender-diverse respondents reported experiencing multiple forms of harassment and violence, a disproportionately high number compared to cisgender workers.

Phoebe Fuller (PressProgress)

Canada’s unions have long been strong allies in the fight for equal rights for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, advocating access to work benefits for same-sex couples and campaigning for a nationwide conversion therapy ban.

Fae Johnstone, president of the 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy group Momentum Canada, said a strong relationship between the 2SLGBTQ+ community and the labour movement has been fostered because queer and trans people are more likely to be low-income and face precarious employment.

“While our union siblings have been there with us for decades, we need them to be there with us now more than ever because our community is under attack,” Johnstone told PressProgress.

“I’m worried we’re going to roll back on general acceptance of queer and trans people and unions are amongst the best positioned to help make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Johnstone emphasized that what the 2SLGBTQ+ community needs now is bodies on the front lines, something unions are well equipped to organize.

“The opportunity here is for unions from coast to coast to coast to activate beyond a pride statement or beyond solidarity, but to really be with us in partnership, recognizing that rising hate is going to impact queer and trans union members and all workers.”

Phoebe Fuller (PressProgress)

The flying squads established in the CLC’s emergency anti-hate resolution focus on this kind of on-the-ground support.

According to McKay, these flying squads enable unions to share information about anti-2SLGBTQ+ demonstrations and organize counter-measures. Unions can send members to show solidarity and share required resources such as water, megaphones, high visibility vests and people with de-escalation training.

“It’s a way that we can be active on the frontline that’s not just relying on 2SLGBTQ+ members to lead the way,” McKay said.

On July 4, a BC flying squad helped organize a defense against far-right protestors at a drag camp for kids in Vancouver.

The camp at Carousel Theatre for Young People on Granville Island drew attention from the far-right after People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier tweeted about it earlier this year.

Phoebe Fuller (PressProgress)

According to IATSE 118, the union representing workers at the theatre, staff became the target of harassment from anti-2SLGBTQ+ groups like Action4Canada and were “bombarded with hateful messages.”

IATSE 118 called on Vancouver’s wider community of unions and 2SLGBTQ+ allies to come out to the theatre and present a united front on the first day of the drag camp.

Several unions were present, waving local flags and donning rainbows, including other IATSE locals 891 and 938, Move Up, the BCGEU, UBCP-ACTRA, the TSSU and the ILWU.

“It’s deeply unfortunate that we have to be here today. Ideally, these camps would happen without a blip on the right-wing radar,” Conor Moore, recording secretary of IATSE 118, told PressProgress.

“On the one hand, it’s pretty heartbreaking … but at the same time, deeply heartwarming that we all are here together.”

The supporters present at the demonstration greatly outnumbered the less than 10 anti-2SLGBTQ+ protesters across the street.

Moore said he hopes the action at Carousel Theatre is just the beginning of the labour movement’s efforts to combat anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate and show solidarity with other marginalized groups.

“Unions are not just an economic structure. Unions are a community structure. Wherever people need support, that’s where unions need to be.”


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Phoebe Fuller
Labour reporting intern
Phoebe Fuller is PressProgress' 2023 labour reporting intern and a Masters of Journalism student at UBC.

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