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Queer Working-Class Politics and the U.S. Labor Movement

Caption: Starbucks workers and organizers from Philadelphia and other cities plus other Philly workers rallied at City Hall.

Credit: Joe Piette, Flickr


In the early months of 2020, queer Starbucks baristas brewed a plan to challenge their low wages and workplace discrimination. I first learned about the campaign while attending a national LGBTQ+ advocacy meeting where a group of these workers previewed their organizing agenda. Sitting in a dim hotel conference room, I listened to the baristas share their experiences, which mixed episodes of humiliation and financial hardship—a trans worker’s “dead name” (pre-transition name) that reappeared on each week’s work calendar; a work calendar that never listed one worker’s name (dead or chosen) enough times to keep their name on an apartment lease. Many of the workers shared their disillusionment with a company that had portrayed itself as corporate  America’s trans rights vanguardist. In fact, Starbucks had just released its #whatsyourname advertising campaign, which featured trans and gender-diverse customers asking to have their chosen names scribbled onto coffee cups.[1] Challenging the company’s rosy narrative, UNITE HERE issued press releases in February 2020 documenting Starbucks baristas’ complaints of discrimination, low wages, and too few hours.[2]

LGBTQ+ advocacy and leadership appear central to a new generation of labor militants. Take for example the Starbucks workers who have voted to unionize over 350 cafes.[3] Reflecting on these efforts, the AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work executive director Jerame Davis remarked that the union drive was “one of the queerest union campaigns I’ve ever seen.”[4] In June of that year, over 3,000 Starbucks Workers United members struck against the company’s decision to prohibit in-store Pride decorations, a policy that some perceived as capitulating to rising anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.[5] Beyond Starbucks, Pride at Work has received an influx of requests from labor leaders seeking advice on queer-inclusive contract provisions.[6] Among international unions, the United Auto Workers (UAW) recently created an LGBTQ+ caucus, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have agitated for trans teachers’ and students’ rights.[7]

. . . [U]nions promoting LGBTQ+ issues can deliver—through negotiations—often more readily than civil rights law or supposedly progressive corporations can.

Now is an appropriate time to assess why queer advocacy seems commonsense to many of today’s unionized workers. One answer is that unions promoting LGBTQ+ issues can deliver—through negotiations—often more readily than civil rights law or supposedly progressive corporations can. However, inspiring as an unabashedly queer working-class politics might be—that is, an approach to labor struggle that centers specific LGBTQ+ reforms such as antidiscrimination contract provisions and trans-inclusive healthcare plans—organized labor’s ability to improve queer workers’ lives stems ultimately from its power to raise standards for all workers. This is in no small part because the basic union contract gains that positively impact LGBTQ+ workers are essentially the same ones that address the health, income, and housing needs of all workers.

. . . [O]rganized labor’s ability to improve queer workers’ lives stems ultimately from its power to raise standards for all workers.

In what follows, I document historic and contemporary instances where labor unions have embraced LGBTQ+ equality reforms while highlighting the power that across-the-board economic issues have for all workers—queer or not. Although the former are essential to creating equality within the working class, the latter hold the most potential for improving LGBTQ+ workers’ lives and for creating bonds of solidarity among workers in an age where economic fears are so regularly redirected toward anti-queer scapegoating ends.

The Queer Appeal of Unions
Queer workers’ organizations and the broader trade union movement frequently provide protections and benefits that legislators, courts, and corporations are often unable or unwilling to deliver. A look at demographics is instructive here. LGBTQ+ Americans experience higher rates of poverty than their straight cisgender peers in a country where high rates of debt, inadequate health insurance, and at-will employment are already widespread.[8] According to a 2021 report published by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, 17 percent of LGBTQ+ people experienced poverty compared to a 12 percent rate among straight cisgender people.9 Trans people exhibit even higher rates of poverty than most other cross-sections of the queer population. What might account for these disparities? A 2017 report issued by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition observed that the “risk factors and causes” of anti-trans violence were likely rooted in “some of society’s most challenging issues.”[10] Among these were unaffordable healthcare, workplace discrimination, reduced employment opportunities, and safe, inclusive schools. In other words, the life chances of many poor and working-class trans people—like all poor and working-class people—are diminished primarily because they lack the basic material needs and comforts that unions routinely provide to their members.[11]

Indeed, queer-inclusive unions offer advantages over the paltry protections offered by federal civil rights law and enforcement mechanisms.[12] Title VII’s prohibition on sex-based employment discrimination—which until a few years ago excluded LGBTQ+ workers from such protections—has historically been interpreted as guaranteeing a narrow formal legal equality.[13] Although this rendering of equality was far from preordained—in contrast to mere legal protection from discrimination, labor feminists have long advocated for a robust set of public-goods-based reforms including worker protections, living wages, and care work programs—it has come to characterize the federal civil rights regime.[14] Furthermore, federal courts have interpreted Title VII narrowly to cases in which an employee can demonstrate evidence that an employer had engaged in discriminatory “animus” because of that employee’s protected class status (e.g., race, religion, or sex).[15]

By conceiving of discrimination as arising less from structural economic factors and more from prejudice-based discrimination, Title VII’s impact was sharply curtailed long before the Supreme Court decided in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) to apply its protections to LGBTQ+ employees.16 Moreover, Bostock came on the heels of the Court’s anti-union decision in Janus v. AFSCME (2018), which forced right-to-work constraints upon the country’s public-sector unions.17 In other words, LGBTQ+ employees have gained some limited rights against discrimination while losing their rights as workers. Still more, the Supreme Court appears willing to limit the impact of recent LGBTQ+ rights victories. This is clear given the Court’s 2021 decision allowing a publicly funded Catholic social service agency to deny married gay couples seeking to foster and adopt, as well as its 2023 ruling allowing a Christian website designer to refuse service to a queer couple planning their wedding.18 Whichever path the Court takes on future LGBTQ+ rights issues—either a narrow formal equality route or an overtly anti-LGBTQ+ one—its decisions stand to do more harm than good to working-class people, queer or otherwise.

Whichever path the Court takes on future LGBTQ+ rights issues—its decisions stand to do more harm than good to working-class people, queer, or otherwise.

Unions often have the power and will to deliver what civil rights law cannot. In recent years, many locals have added “gender identity and expression” and “sexual orientation” to existing anti-discrimination contract language.[19] Union members within the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME), for example, have negotiated over 1,000 contracts with such protections.[20] Rather than relying on the courts where the deck has been stacked against anti-discrimination claims, queer union members benefit from grievance procedures and the power of their membership which can pressure employers to rectify abuse. Such provisions for trans workers actually predate national civil rights protections by several decades. In the 1980s, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) in New Jersey negotiated anti-discrimination contract language on “change of sex” after a trans worker experienced harassment after gender-affirmation surgery.[21] Even earlier in 1975, a trans worker in Lordstown, Ohio, successfully sued General Motors for mistreatment, using a new UAW attorney services benefit.[22] Today’s unions also furnish LGBTQ+ workers with additional benefits. Recently, the United Steel Workers (USW) eliminated restrictions on gender-affirming care from its health insurance plan, giving union members and their families access to potentially life-saving—and, in some cases, expensive—treatment.[23]

Deep Ties: Queer Workers and the Labor Movement
Although the labor movement’s attention to LGBTQ+ issues may seem like a contemporary phenomenon, such integration extends back to the early-twentieth century.[24] The late historian Allan Bérubé traversed North America, teaching activists about the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, which by the early 1930s was an increasingly racially desegregated union with both communist ties and a gay-friendly culture.[25] As the gay and lesbian rights movement gradually garnered national attention throughout the mid-century, independent queer labor organizations and caucuses within existing union locals were formed—but not without a struggle.[26] The independent New York–based Gay Teachers Association, for example, spent several years pressuring the United Federation of Teachers to simply advertise their existence to the membership.[27] By the 1980s, workers in publishing—among them employees at the Village Voice—as well as workers in government, food services, retail, and education were organizing caucuses within their locals and fighting successfully for antidiscrimination protections, HIV/AIDS education trainings, and domestic partner benefits.[28] Recognizing the growing importance of queer workers’ needs within the labor movement, the AFL-CIO created Pride at Work in 1998, which now functions alongside other AFL-CIO constituency groups, including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.[29]

For decades, queer-sympathetic workers’ organizations have thwarted the Religious Right’s dual assault on minority rights and labor power. Throughout the 1970s, the nascent Religious Right was orchestrated by those like Christian political strategist Paul Weyrich and industrial leaders in oil, alcohol, and aluminum manufacturing.[30] This coalition aimed to convince Christian blue-collar voters that the Democratic Party’s New Deal and Great Society social and economic reforms had undermined so-called traditional conceptions of morality and liberty. Searching for a scapegoat, the Religious Right settled on the gay and lesbian movement, decrying their early civil rights victories as a sign of the country’s cultural decay (other targets included desegregation policies and abortion rights).[31] In 1977, the ominously named “Save Our Children Inc.” succeeded in overturning a Miami-Dade County anti-discrimination ordinance, thus inaugurating the Religious Right’s anti-queer crusade.

As the gay and lesbian rights movement gradually garnered national attention throughout the mid-century, independent queer labor organizations and caucuses within existing union locals  were formed—but not without a struggle.

Inspired by this victory, California State Senator John Briggs—an infamously anti-labor lawmaker—introduced Proposition 6, a 1978 ballot initiative that would have banned queer people from teaching in public schools.[32] The Briggs Initiative spurred gay and lesbian workers to action, forming groups like the Workers Conference to Defeat the Briggs Initiative, which brought together rank-and-file members of the AFT in California as well as the UAW, the USW, the Teamsters, the Culinary Workers Union, and the American Postal Workers Union.[33] Eventually, regional labor groups, including California’s AFL-CIO council, the San Francisco Labor Council, and the California Teachers Association joined the fight.[34] This coalition of queer union members, trade union leaders, and advocacy groups defeated the Briggs Initiative, which they perceived as an attack not just on queer workers but also on public-sector workers more broadly.

Unions made a similar difference in defeating conservative groups in the 1990s. Clashes over queer rights erupted in once-prosperous Pacific Northwestern towns, devastated by the decline of lumber and other major industries. 35 Conflicts over anti-discrimination laws were catalyzed when cosmopolitan middle-and-upper-class families emigrated to these towns from cities like Seattle and San Francisco.[36] The liberal cultural values of these wealthier transplants were easily conflated with the adverse effect that their homeownership had on the property taxes and rents  of poorer longtime residents. Opportunistic conservative politicians made quick use of metastasizing resentments, sparking outrage over multicultural school curriculums and anti-discrimination ordinances. In what has been erroneously termed a “culture war” by some, attention was deflected from the economic roots of class conflict, particularly declining union job prospects in the lumber industry. When state ballot initiatives preempting local anti-discrimination ordinances began to pop up around the region, union density played a significant role in voter outcomes. In right-to-work Colorado, progressive groups did not prevail. But in Oregon, workers led by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 contributed to the defeat of a 1992 anti-gay initiative.[37]

Scapegoating at the State Level
Organized labor continues to play a crucial role in combatting state-level assaults on LGBTQ+ rights. Just as John Briggs forged an anti-labor agenda with a ban on queer public-school teachers, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has demonized queer and queer-friendly public-school teachers while undermining the state’s public-sector unions. The DeSantis agenda has been characterized by its aggressive policing of public-school curriculums and library holdings, particularly materials dealing with sex education and LGBTQ+ and civil rights history.[38] While Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act (popularly known as “Don’t Say Gay”) immediately became national news, less coverage has been devoted to the governor’s support for a “paycheck protection act.” The latter prohibits employers from taking union dues directly out of members’ paychecks and outright eliminates public-sector unions that fall below 60 percent  embership.[39] Notably, unions representing police officers, firefighters, and correctional and probation officers—that is, unions that tend to endorse Republican Party officials—are exempt from the law.[40]

DeSantis ally Christopher Rufo has spelled out the overall strategy quite clearly. In Rufo’s words, the goal of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and the foreboding rhetoric of “grooming” schoolteachers is designed to create “universal public school distrust.”[41] If voters can be convinced that unionized teachers and public schools threaten childhood innocence, public education and progressive unions alike can be more effectively dismantled.[42] Recognizing the existential threat posed by the DeSantis administration, Florida’s unions have pushed back against both anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum policies and laws that weaken public-sector unions. At its 2023 annual gathering, National Education Association delegates devised a plan to address anti-LGBTQ+ bills and to  protect queer teachers and students in states like Florida.[43]

The Bottom Line Is Still the Corporate Line
It is true that many U.S. corporations have offered inclusive benefits and protections to queer white-collar workers for decades, long before many unions extended similar benefits.[44] Businesses have also pressured governments to expand civil rights laws. For example, 125 major U.S. companies organized as the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness advocated for national civil rights legislation over two decades ago.[45] Occasionally, those corporations have even threatened to withhold investments from cities and states that oppose LGBTQ+ rights.[46]

However, the limits of corporate benevolence for LGBTQ+ workers further underscore the advantages of a labor-backed progressive response.[47] Not long ago, there remained some hope for the power of corporate-induced boycotts. North Carolina’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory lost his 2016 reelection bid just months after signing an anti-trans bathroom bill, which had led several large employers to cancel business expansions in the state.[48] Fearing economic backlash from activist CEOs and chambers of commerce, governors became cautious about signing legislation that excluded trans athletes from competition or banned gender-affirming care.[49] Pointing to the bottom line, companies stressed the business advantages of LGBTQ+ diversity, noting queer employees’ alleged aptitude for pursuing untapped consumer markets.[50] Suddenly, none of that seems to matter. Hundreds of anti-trans bills have been filed since 2021 and dozens have been passed.[51]

It appears that, once anti-trans policies spread beyond a few conservative states, the threat of corporate-led boycotts receded.[52] After all, corporations tend to seek out favorable “business climates,” which are plentiful among rightwing states that have weaker unions and lower taxes.[53] Defending its decision to move operations to Tennessee despite the state’s recently enacted anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, Oracle Software executives reasoned that the company itself would create an inclusive environment for state residents. While the company’s policies might benefit a tiny portion of the state’s workforce covered by Oracle’s in-house diversity, inclusion, and equity policies, the vast majority of Tennesseans stand to gain nothing.

Searching for a scapegoat, the Religious Right settled on the gay and lesbian movement, decrying their early civil rights victories as a sign of the country’s cultural decay . . .

Overall, the pursuit of profits has stalled corporate America’s capacity and motivation to thwart anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Again, Starbucks offers an example. As baristas have challenged corporate leadership, the supposedly trans-inclusive coffee chain has ominously suggested that unionized workers jeopardize the company’s much-lauded gender-affirming healthcare coverage.[54] In this sense, trans issues today are used by some nominally progressive corporations against worker solidarity much in the way bosses have historically stoked racial animosity among workers.[55]

Affinity or Solidarity?
Whether one looks at history, demographics, or legal developments, it is clear that the fates of most queer people in this country are entwined with those of working and poor people more generally. Two points are worth reemphasizing here: This entwined fate stems from the fact that most queer people are working class or poor, and queer people have historically made excellent scapegoats for those seeking to raze social welfare and organized labor.[56] On the other hand, the category “LGBTQ+” is heterogenous in the manner that all identity-based population categories are. LGBTQ+ people run the gamut, meaning that a fraction of queer people are corporate executives, small business owners, or defined by some other variant of capitalist, managerial, or petit-bourgeois status. In addition, national queer advocacy organizations are dependent on donations from businesses and wealthy queer people and their allies, which usually delimits those organizations’ agendas to a narrow support for civil rights.[57] While these truths are perhaps easily comprehended on their own, together they can create enormous contradictions for those who would pursue a queer working-class politics.

Whether one looks at history, demographics, or legal developments, it is clear that the fates of most queer people in this country are entwined with those of working and poor people more generally.

Although often celebrated as an early moment of queer-worker solidarity, the Coors Boycott offers a cautionary tale.[58] In 1974, Teamsters leader Allan Baird led Northern Californian unionized beer distributors in struggle against a recalcitrant Coors management that refused to expand contract benefits.[59] Sensing a possible collaboration, Baird brought Bay Area gay activists into the union’s boycott activities by highlighting Coors’s right-wing political advocacy—Joseph Coors provided seed money to the anti-LGBTQ+ Heritage Foundation—and discriminatory workplace practices.[60] This collaboration proved to be symbiotic: The boycott created relationships that spurred unions to implement anti-discrimination contract protections and persuaded gay rights activists to organize against anti-labor ballot measures.[61]

A few years into Baird’s alliance-building project, it became apparent that queer advocates could be wooed just as easily by corporate “allies.” Realizing the threat that displeased gay consumers posed to the company’s bottom line, Coors quickly pivoted, adding sexual orientation protections to its companywide anti-discrimination policy in 1978 and donating to AIDS charities throughout the 1980s.62 By the end of the 1990s, Coors had implemented domestic partner benefits, contributed large donations to queer nonprofits, and hired gay liaisons, including future Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, to launder its image.[63] To the Teamsters’ dismay, Coors once again flows from queer bars’ beer taps. Ironically, what made the Coors boycott so successful—that is, the fact that a company’s policies toward queer people could mobilize consumers to action—is what broke it apart.[64]

Instead of conceiving of LGBTQ+ issues as those particular to a small fraction of workers, we might think creatively about organized labor’s capacities for promoting both equal treatment and general welfare. In some instances, union advocacy for public-goods spending could benefit many trans people even more than trans-specific reforms do. Take the example of public transit and sex markers in Philadelphia. From 1981 through 2013, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) monthly transit passes were marked with a male or female sticker, which caused problems for trans women like Philadelphia-based trans rights advocate Charlene Arcila.[65] Whether Arcila presented an M-stamped or F-stamped pass, she was turned away by bus drivers who were tasked with interpreting her sex. Importantly, SEPTA’s motivation for implementing sex markers had nothing to do with trans-identified riders. The sex designations were an anti-fraud measure, designed to prevent revenue loss by stopping married (cis) men and women from sharing passes.[66] For decades, SEPTA workers organized in the Transport Workers Union have rallied for increased transit spending and against efforts to privatize transit lines.[67] Additional funding could reduce the pressure to squeeze every last cent out of riders.

Instead of additional funding, however, a trans-specific reform was implemented that did less for many trans Philadelphians than a public-goods approach might have. SEPTA’s 2013 move to scrap its sex markers was fundamentally disconnected from any investment in its infrastructure as evidenced by the system’s current financial crisis.[68] So, trans riders are no longer subject to humiliating onboarding experiences, but all riders—trans and cis alike—now suffer under the collapse of the poorest big city in America’s public transit system.[69]

Queer Working-Class Politics in Perilous Times
The current state of Starbucks unionization offers a concluding perspective on queer working-class politics. The thrill of watching unionized coffee shops rapidly dot a map of the United States has been replaced by the pain of witnessing the setbacks and stalemates Starbucks workers have endured.[70] According to journalist Steven Greenhouse, Starbucks executives have overwhelmed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by violating so many labor laws that the board simply cannot keep up with its caseload (penalties for breaking labor law are often puny).[71] This all comes at a time when the board itself is headed by a progressive general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, whose pro-worker agenda has been impeded by the NLRB’s budgetary crisis. That crisis has sapped the agency’s ability to run union elections effectively and to protect unionizing workers who have been unlawfully terminated.[72] Workers could soon meet an even greater challenge as the Supreme Court hears cases concerning the constitutionality of the NLRB.[73]

In this daunting moment, it is no wonder that many labor advocates find hope in young, diverse workers organizing behemoths from Starbucks to Amazon.[74] However, those who are inspired by today’s queer working-class politics would benefit from thinking structurally and historically about the opportunities and pitfalls that such a politics entails. The slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” directs one’s attention not just to the particulars of one group of workers’ hardships but also to the fundamental class interests shared by LGBTQ+ and all other workers.


Notes
1. Starbucks, “Every Name’s a Story #whatsyourname,” January 31, 2020, available at https://stories.starbucks.com/emea/stories/2020/whatsyourname/.
2. UNITE HERE, “LGBTQ + Orlando Airport Starbucks Baristas File Complaints under City of Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance,” February 25, 2020, available at https://unitehere.org/press-releases/lgbtq-orlando-airport-starbucks-baristas-file-complaints-under-city-oforlando-anti-discrimination-ordinance/; UNITE HERE, “Median Pay Is Lower for Black Baristas than for White Baristas across Starbucks Stores at 27 Airports Operated by HMSHost, New Report Shows,” February 25, 2020, available at https://unitehere.org/press-releases/medianpay-is-lower-for-black-baristas-than-for-whitebaristas-across-starbucks-stores-at-27-airportsoperated-by-hmshost-new-report-shows/.
3. Edward J. Moreno, “Starbucks Tells Union It Wants to Resume Contract Talks,” New York Times, December 8, 2023, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/08/business/economy/starbucks-union-workers-united.html.
4. Talia Soglin, “LGBTQ Workers Are at the Forefront of Chicago’s Labor Resurgence: ‘You Have to Learn to Stick Up for Yourself,’” Chicago Tribune, June 13, 2023, available at https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-bizqueer-labor-union-movement-20230613-txpiybnzyzhgrcwwvstdyapz54-story.html.
5. Eloise Goldsmith and Rohan Montgomery, “For Queer Starbucks Workers, Pride Month Is Strike Month,” The Nation, June 30, 2023, available at https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/starbucks-pride-strike-union/.
6. Ibid.
7. Imanni Wright, “UAW Announces LGBTQ Caucus during Pride Month,” WDIV, June 7, 2021. https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2021/06/01/uaw-announces-lgbtq-caucus-during-pridemonth/; American Federation of Teachers, “Support of the Rights of Transgender Persons—AFT Stands in Unity against Discrimination in North Carolina and Mississippi,” February 8, 2017, available at https://www.aft.org/resolution/support-rights-transgender-persons-aft-stands-unity-against-discrimination; American Federation of Teachers, “Defeat Anti-LGBTQIA+ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and Anti- Transgender Bills and Attacks with Mass Pride and Mass Action,” October 4, 2022, available at https://www.aft.org/resolution/defeat-antilgbtqia-dont-say-gay-and-anti-transgender-bills-and-attacks-mass-pride-and.
8. Bianca D. M. Wilson, Lauren J. A. Bouton, M. V. Lee Badgett, and Moriah L. Macklin, “LGBT Poverty in the United States: Trends at the Onset of COVID-19,” Williams Institute, February 2023, available at https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgbt-poverty-us/.
9. Ibid., 1, 3; notably, poverty rates declined significantly for both populations, a change which Williams Institute researchers attributed to COVID-19 economic relief programs that have largely eclipsed since this study’s data was collected.
10. Sarah McBride, “HRC & Trans People of Color Coalition Release Report on Violence against the Transgender Community,” Human Rights Campaign, November 17, 2017, available at https://www.hrc.org/news/hrc-trans-peopleof-color-coalition-release-report-on-violenceagainst-the.
11. Paisley Currah, Sex Is as Sex Does: Governing Transgender Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2022); See Currah’s Sex Is as Sex Does for a critique of the abstraction “transphobia.”
12. Katherine Turk, Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Libby Adler, Gay Priori: A Queer Critical Legal Studies Approach to Law Reform (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).
13. Deborah Dinner, “Social Reproduction in and of Feminist Legal Theory,” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 34, no. 2 (2023): 22-29; Notably, gay and lesbian legal advocates in the 1970s failed to achieve even this level of formal legal equality, leaving queer employees at the whim of corporate benevolence, sporadic episodes of advocacy group pressure, and union contracts (see Turk, Equality on Trial, 171).
14. Jess Bergman, “How Bosses Ate Feminism,” The New Republic, February 20, 2023, available at https://newrepublic.com/article/170220/bosses-ate-feminism.
15. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Jenny R. Yang and Jane Liu, “Strengthening Accountability for Discrimination: Confronting Fundamental Power Imbalances in the Employment Relationship,” Economic Policy Institute, January 19, 2021, available at https://www.epi.org/unequalpower/publications/strengthening-accountability-for-discrimination-confronting-fundamental-power-imbalances-in-the-employment-relationship/; Amy Howe, “Court Agrees to Hear Title VII Employer Discrimination Case,” SCOTUSblog, June 30, 2023, available at https://www.scotusblog.com/2023/06/court-agrees-to-hear-titlevii-employer-discrimination-case/; indeed, the Court may further limit Title VII’s protections in an upcoming case; a number of other judicial inventions have constrained what even counts as evidence of discrimination (e.g., an employer might defend a sexist or racist comment as a mere “stray remark”).
16. Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___(2020).
17. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 585 U.S. ___ (2018).
18. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 593 U.S. ___(2021); 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 600 U.S.___ (2023).
19. Amy Livingston and Sarah Lazare, “5 Things Unions Can Do to Defend Transgender Workers,” In These Times, September 21, 2023, available at https://inthesetimes.com/article/5-things-unions-can-do-to-defend-transgender-workers.
20. Sarah David Heydemann, “Unions Can Protect Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Workers, Despite Trump’s DoJ,” National Women’s Law Center Blog, October 26, 2018, available at https://nwlc.org/unions-can-protect-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-workers-despite-trumps-doj/.
21. Miriam Frank, Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2014), 2.
22. Ibid., 38-9.
23. Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, “USW, TLDEF, ILS Secure Health Care Victory for Workers at U.S. Steel,” July 13, 2022, available at https://transgenderlegal.org/stay-informed/usw-tldef-ils-secure-health-carevictory-for-workers-at-us-steel/.
24. Sara R. Smith, “Review of Queers Are Workers, Workers Are Queer, Workers’ Rights Are Hot! The Emerging Field of Queer Labor History, by Allan Bérubé, Frank Miriam, Reay Barry, and Tiemeyer Phil,” International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 89 (2016): 184-94.
25. Estelle Freedman and John D’Emilio, “Introducing Allan Berube and the Story of the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union: No Red-Baiting! No Race-Baiting! No Queen-Baiting! By Allan Bérubé,” OutHistory,” 2016, available at https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/no-baiting/red-race-queen; Waterfront WorkersHistory Project, “Marine Cooks and Stewards,” (n.d.), available at https://depts.washington.edu/dock/marine_cooks.shtml.
26. John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
27. Miriam Frank, “Lesbian and Gay Caucuses in the US Labor Movement,” in Laboring for Rights: Unions and Sexual Diversity across Nations, ed. Gerald Hunt (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 87-102, 88; Frank, Out in the Union, 120.
28. Kitty Krupat and Patrick McCreery, ed., Out at Work: Building a Gay-Labor Alliance (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 11-2, 14; Frank, “Lesbian and Gay Caucuses.”
29. Krupat and McCreery, Out at Work, 15.
30. Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009); Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Religious Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
31. Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Penguin Books, 2017); Randall Balmer, Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (New York: Eerdmans, 2021); Mary Ziegler, Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022).
32. Josh Sides, “Sexual Propositions,” Boom 1, no. 3 (2011): 30-43. doi:10.1525/boom.2011.1.3.30, 38; Sara Smith-Silverman, “‘Gay Teachers Fight Back!’ Rank-and-File Gay and Lesbian Teachers’ Activism against the Briggs Initiative, 1977–1978,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 29, no. 1 (January 2020): 79-107, doi:10.7560/JHS29104; Frank, Out in the Union, 90.
33. Michael Ward and Mark Freeman, “Defending Gay Rights: The Campaign against the Briggs Initiative in California,” Radical America 13, no. 4 (1979): 23.
34. Frank, Out in the Union, 90-1.
35. Arlene Stein, The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002).
36. Ibid., 57.
37. Frank, Out in the Union, 126-27, 131.
38. Jo Yurcaba, “Break the Law or out a Student? Florida Teachers Navigate ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill,” NBC, August 19, 2022, available at https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/florida-teachers-navigate-first-year-dont-say-gay-lawrcna43817.
39. AFSCME Florida, “What Is SB 256?” 2023, available at https://www.afscmefl.org/what-sb-256.
40. McKenna Schueler, “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Anti-Union Bill into Law, Calling It ‘Paycheck Protection,” Orlando Weekly, May 9, 2023, available at https://www.orlandoweekly.
com/news/florida-gov-ron-desantis-signs-anti-union-bill-into-law-calling-it-paycheck-protection-34156024.
41. Jamelle Bouie, “Democrats, You Can’t Ignore the Culture Wars Any Longer,” New York Times, April 22, 2022, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/opinion/red-scare-culture-wars.html?referringSource=articleShare.
42. Joanna Wuest, “Big Capital and the Anti-Trans Agenda,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, July 12, 2023, https://www.rosalux.de/en/news/id/50710/big-capital-and-the-anti-trans-agenda; Kimberly Leonard, “Inside the ‘Big Mess’ Facing Florida Teachers’ Unions,” Politico, November 21, 2023, available at https://www.politico.com/newsletters/florida-playbook/2023/11/21/insidethe-big-mess-facing-florida-teachers-unions-00128232#:~:text=Florida’s%20teachers’%20unions%20are%20scrambling,school%20employees%20are%20paying%20dues.
43. Madeine Will, “‘We Say Gay’: Largest Teachers’ Union Pledges to Fight Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies,” Education Week, July 6, 2023, available at https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/we-say-gay-largestteachers-union-pledges-to-fight-anti-lgbtqpolicies/2023/07#:~:text=Educators%20wore%20shirts%20donning%20the,gender%20identity%20for%20all%20grades.
44. Margot Canaday, Queer Career: Sexuality and Work in Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2023), 229, 249-50, 256.
45. Carlos A. Ball, The Queering of Corporate America: How Big Business Went from LGBTQ Adversary to AllyBall (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019), 139.
46. Ibid.
47. Joanna Wuest, “The Dead End of Corporate Activism,” Boston Review, May 18, 2022, available at https://bostonreview.net/articles/the-dead-end-of-corporate-activism/.
48. Jessica Huseman, “N.C. Governor Loses Re-Election Bid, Attempts to Hold Power by Claiming Voter Fraud,” Electionland, November 30, 2016, available at https://www.propublica.org/article/pat-mccrory-re-electionbid-attempts-hold-power-claiming-voter-fraud.
49. Stephen Groves, “In South Dakota, Noem Bends—Partially—on Transgender Ban,” Associated Press, March 23, 2021, available at https://apnews.com/article/legislature-lobbying-south-dakota-legislation-kristi-noemea2447e3a06b7c11f7ab4f16a56d6f03.
50. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin, “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation,” Harvard Business Review, December 2013, available at https://hbr.org/2013/12/
how-diversity-can-drive-innovation.
51. Nico Lang, “2022 Was the Worst Year Ever for Anti-Trans Bills. How Did We Get Here?,” Them, available at https://www.them.us/story/2022-anti-trans-bills-history-explained.
52. Wuest, “The Dead End,”; Michael W. Toffel, “The New CEO Activists,” Harvard Business Review Magazine, 2018, available at https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-new-ceo-activists.
53. Caroline Hanley, “How the Idea of the Local ‘Business Climate’ Was Created in the 1950s to Give Companies Leverage at the Height of Unions’ Power,” LSE Blog, July 2, 2021, available at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2021/07/02/how-the-idea-of-the-local-business-climate-was-created-in-the-1950s-to-give-companies-leverage-at-theheight-of-unions-power/; Manny Fernandez, “With Tech Expansion, Austin Is Still Weird. It’s Just More Wired Now, Too,” New York Times, December 25, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/us/austin-apple-hub-silicon-hills.html.
54. Amelia Lucas, “Starbucks Union: Company Threatens that Unionizing Could Jeopardize Gender-Affirming Health Care,” CNBC, June, 14, 2022, available at https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/14/starbucks-union-companythreatens-that-unionizing-could-jeopardizegender-affirming-health-care.html.
55. Robert Korstad and Nelson Lichtenstein, “Opportunities Found and Lost: Labor, Radicals, and the Early Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of American History 75, no. 3 (1988): 786-811.
56. Judith Levine, “Father Knows Best,” Boston Review, April 5, 2022, available at https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/dont-say-gay-lawsdont-care-about-kids/; David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
57. Adolph Reed Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: A Black Politics in the Post-Segregation Era (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999); Dara Z. Strolovitch, Affirmative Advocacy: Race, Class, and Gender in Interest Group Politics (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2007); Sam Gindin, “Bidenomics and the Left,” nonsite, October 30, 2023, available at https://nonsite.org/bidenomics-and-the-left/; reflecting on the role of organized labor in our late neoliberal era, Sam Gindin recently offered an instructive perspective on social movements’ shortcomings and the need to transcend simple solutions such as those which combine existing unions with existing liberal nonprofits. Gindin wrote, “Nor is the issue how to link unions to movements, though of course that too matters. For one, social ‘movements’ in the United States and Canada have gotten a free ride in left assessments. Relative to unions, they generally do not have the membership base, the daily presence in the life of their members, the institutional resources and financial independence, or, in a good many cases, even the democratic structures that unions, for all their flaws, have. There are certainly sporadic movement eruptions, and occasionally they reach a national scale, but they have proven to have limited organizing substance and lasting power. Combining movements barely able to reproduce themselves with currently relatively ineffective unions offers no answer to challenging capitalism. Transforming each is a  condition for bringing both constructively together. And this is likely only through the intervention a working-class institutional form beyond specific unions and movements (and extending far beyond electoralist politics).”
58. Travers Johnson, “Before Bud Light, Gays Boycotted Coors Beer,” Queerency, May 21, 2023 https://www.queerency.com/before-budlight-gays-boycotted-coors-beer/; International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 856, “Teamsters Celebrate PRIDE: A Look Back at the Coors Boycott & Strike of the 1970’s,” June 29, 2023, available at https://teamsters856.org/uncategorized/teamsters-celebrate-pride-alook-back-at-the-1970s-coors-boycott-strike/.
59. Allyson P. Bentley, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 81.
60. Dan Baum, Citizen Coors: A Grand Family Saga of Business, Politics, and Beer (New York: Harper Collins, 2001).
61. Bentley, Brewing a Boycott, 101.
62. Frank, Out in the Union, 80.
63. Ibid., 82; For an extended critique of LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofits, see the introduction and conclusion chapters in: Joanna Wuest, Born This Way: Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2023).
64. For an excellent critique of the boycott strategy more broadly, see: Alexandra Chasin, Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
65. Heath Fogg Davis, Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? (New York: New York University Press 2017), 1-3.
66. I owe this insight to Briana S. Last.
67. Transport Workers Union Local 234, “50th Anniversary,” 1993, available at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/twulocal234/pages/18/attachments/original/1390432626/TWU_Local_234_1993___Closing.pdf?1390432626; James Wolfinger, Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016), 195-228; As James Wolfinger has documented, private owners and investors gutted Philadelphia’s transit system and allowed it to decay before the city was essentially forced into making the system public (this was the predecessor to today’s SEPTA).
68. Brian X. McCrone, “SEPTA Passes No Longer Come with Controversial ‘M’ and ‘F’ Gender Stickers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 27, 2013, available at https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/breaking/SEPTA_passes_no_longer_come_with_M_and_F_gender_stickers.html; Beccah Hendrickson and Briana Smith, “SEPTA Reaches Tentative Deal with Transport Workers Union to Avert Strike,” WPVI, October 28, 2023, available at https://6abc.com/septa-strike-2023-transportworkers-union-local-234-philadelphia-pa-twuupdate/13981749/.
69. Anna Orso and John Duchneskie, “Philadelphia’s Poverty Rate Is Improving, but It Remains the Poorest Big City in America,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 2023, available at https://www.inquirer.com/news/philadelphia-poverty-rate-big-city-20230914.html.
70. Steven Greenhouse, “Will Starbucks’ Union-Busting Stifle a Union Rebirth in the US?,” Guardian, August 28, 2023, available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/28/will-starbucks-union-busting-stifle-a-union-rebirth-in-the-us.
71. Steven Greenhouse, “US Labor Leaders Say Underfunding at Federal Agency has ‘Reached Crisis Stage,’” Guardian, August 17, 2022, available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/17/us-laboragency-union-activity; Dee-Ann Durbin, “In a reversal, Starbucks proposes restarting union talks and reaching contract agreements in 2024,” Associated Press, December 18, 2023, available at https://apnews.com/article/starbucks-workers-united-union-coffee-05d3d30c-2c7e100a07f5d74fefb2d556; however, Starbucks announced on December 8, 2023, that the company is committed to bargaining with Starbucks Workers United and hopes that an agreement might be reached next year.
72. Bryce Covert, “Meet the Activist Championing the Rights of Workers From the Inside,” The Nation, February 13, 2023, available at https://www.thenation.com/article/society/jennifer-abruzzo-national-labor-relations-board/; Greenhouse, “US Labor Leaders.”
73. Jason Vazquez, “The NLRB in a Post-Chevron World,” On Labor, November 28, 2023, available at https://onlabor.org/the-nlrb-in-a-post-chevron-world/.
74. David B. Cornfield, “The New Labor Activism, a New Labor Sociology,” Work and Occupations 50, no. 3 (2023): 316-34, doi:10.1177/07308884231168042.


Author Biography
Joanna Wuest
is an Assistant Professor of Politics at  Mount Holyoke College and a Public Fellow in LGBTQRights at the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). She is the author of Born  This Way: Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement (University of Chicago Press, 2023).

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