THE BLOG

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

07/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earlier this month, we saw new evidence that our country has entered a real era of change when President Barack Obama issued a proclamation calling on all Americans to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. "As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected," the president's proclamation states. "If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit."

This is a special year in many ways. This month, we mark the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, when the struggle for full citizenship for LGBT Americans began in earnest. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is proud of the role we have played to advance the cause of equal rights for LGBT Americans throughout the years. We are proud of the work of our members and our staff. We are going to continue to fight until we end every policy that treats any group of Americans as second class citizens. Discrimination is wrong. It hurts us all. It must stop.

Decades ago, AFSCME councils and locals across the country took the lead in negotiating employment non-discrimination policies. They used union power to create collective bargaining agreements to protect LGBT public employees. Those victories helped pave the way for non-discrimination policies in the private sector.

But workplace discrimination still goes on. In fact, it remains legal in 30 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression. As a result, LGBT people face serious discrimination in employment. Too many people are being fired...or being denied a promotion...or experiencing harassment on the job. That is wrong and it must stop. That's why we're fighting to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Working with President Obama and our allies in the Congress, we're going to get this done.

As we celebrate LGBT Pride, it's also appropriate to remember that AFSCME has been fighting alongside the LGBT community on a host of other important issues. We're working to pass a federal hate crimes law so that local law enforcement will get the resources they need to keep LGBT families safe and secure wherever they choose to live. We're fighting to change the tax laws so that domestic partners benefits will not be taxed. We're fighting to fund programs to protect LGBT youth from harassment. And we're working to secure a sound retirement for LGBT seniors by ending discrimination in Social Security and tax laws.

We stood with the LGBT community during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis. We fought to end discrimination against People With AIDS. We fought to expand research and treatment programs.

Later this month, the AFSCME Pride Committee at our headquarters in Washington, DC -- composed of LGBT and straight employees -- will host a guest lecture named in honor of our departed brother, Van Sheets. Van spent 17 years working for AFSCME. Van was taken from us much too early. He loved this union with his heart and soul. We loved and cherished Van in return. Van was the driving force behind the creation of Pride at Work, which does so much to give the LGBT community a voice in the labor movement. I know Van would be very proud of the work the Pride Committee is doing and the event that has been scheduled to honor his memory.

Finally, let's not forget that the values we share require us to continue to push forward. That's always been the case in the on-going battle for freedom, fairness and equality. Just look at the fight for marriage equality. AFSCME members -- straight and gay -- have been fighting on the front lines. Yes, we were disappointed with the results in California last November. But today, let's celebrate the great progress we've seen this year. Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have now joined Massachusetts in providing marriage equality for all of their citizens. That's real progress.

So there is much to celebrate this month. But there is more work to be done. We're going to do that work, year in and year out, until equal rights exist for the LGBT community and for all Americans. All of us at AFSCME, working together, are going to do our part. We're going to make equality happen.

It is the right thing to do . . . for our union . . . for our families . . . for our country.

Happy LGBT Pride Month.

This article is adapted from remarks President McEntee delivered at the AFSCME LGBT Pride kick-off event at the union's headquarters in Washington, D.C.