New book links labor union and LGBT histories

Interested in exploring the intersection of organized labor and the LGBT-rights movement?

Miriam Frank’s new book, “Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America,” looks back on the last 50 years and examines the unique ways labor unions have influenced the LGBT community today.

A book presentation and celebration will take place 5:30-7:30 p.m. July 22 at Philadelphia Joint Board, Workers United, 22 S. 22nd St., second floor. The event will feature readings from the book by Frank, an adjunct associate professor at New York University, and a presentation by Gary Kapanowski, who is openly gay and founded the AFSCME Local 1723 union at Temple University in 1977.

“The book covers 50 years of struggles through individuals telling their stories,” Kapanowski said. “There have been a lot of people in the labor movement who have walked that line and put their jobs on the line to raise everyone’s standard of living. This book celebrates these people and their collective history.”

One such story comes from Kapanowski himself.

Shortly after founding the technicians’ union at Temple, it came time to create their first contract with the school.

“Out in California, there was a battle going on politically to make it legal to fire open homosexuals and people who supported them in schools. We didn’t want that fight coming to Pennsylvania, so we added sexual orientation as a protection guaranteed in our contract,” he said, noting there was pushback from the university. “The school said, ‘We can’t do that. We’re state-supported. Conservatives and homophobic legislators would find a way to punish us.’”

But that did not stop him from seeking approval from the union membership.

“It took three months of small meetings with the membership, but eventually we got their overwhelming support to make it a strike issue.”

The union won, and sexual orientation was added to the contract. Two years later in 1980, Temple did the same for its employees, according to Kapanowski.

“We fought for protection on the job in 1978 that you still cannot get from the state in 2015,” Kaponowski said. “Unions still very much have a role in the workplace today.”

To RSVP for the book celebration, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1741045342789181/