Yasmin Nair

Gay Dollars, Labor, and Boycotts

Filed By Yasmin Nair | December 06, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Alan Stock, California, Cinemark, Cleve Jones, economic crisis, gay dollars, Harvey Milk, Labor, Labour, Prop. 8, unions, UNITE HERE

I just wrote a piece for Chicago's Windy City Times on the interlinked issues of Gay Dollars, the links between labor organizers and LGBT politics, and economic boycotts. All of these are, of course, tied to the recent upheavals around Prop 8 and gay marriage. As some of you know, I've been thinking, researching, and writing about these connections for a while now. I'm especially interested in looking at the link between organized labor and LGBT politics for a future piece. An excerpt from the piece and link to the full piece are after the jump. As always, comments and questions are welcome!

Gay Dollars, Labor and Boycotts excerpt:

The gay dollar has never been stronger. The passage of the anti-same-sex-marriage initiative Proposition 8 brought protests across the country. Subsequently, gay activists have released the names of prominent businesspeople who donated to the ballot measure, and called for economic boycotts of their corporations.

Such initiatives, while part of gay history, also prompt new questions. What role do boycotts play when many corporations now woo well-off gay consumers, boast of "gay-friendly" policies and sometimes have gays and lesbians at the helm? What do boycotts say about the connection between gays and labor unions, traditionally among the organizations that call for such boycotts?

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K. Travis Ballie | December 6, 2008 4:12 PM

Hey I really loved your article. I also am interested in those links, although I've neglected the "pink dollar" aspect of it. I wrote about this back during the primaries. Feel free to check it out and thanks for expanding on these very important intersections:


Hey, KTB/antidesi (and, oh, how I LOVE that moniker!!! We. Must. Talk.)

Thanks for your comment, and for posting the link. Your piece is an important reminder that Pride at Work and other queer/queer-friendly groups working within the labour movement are doing really important work that's not restricted to just marriage. Or the Pink Dollar. Let's keep in touch. As I said, I'm working on a larger piece on this topic, and I'd love your input.

I've never been a member of a labor union, but I've also never knowingly crossed a picket line. A picket line is a fairly straight forward thing to understand. Workers are withholding labor as a lever for better working conditions, etc. Boycotts on the other hand can be pretty vague in their rationale.

The reasons for the boycott of South Africa was well articulated, and participation as time went on was near universal. With the exception of Florida oranges, and Coors beer I don't think the gay and lesbian community has put much combined muscle behind economic protest.

Boycotting a hotel chain because employees disagree with me (us) is a pretty tough sell, especially to more economically conservative members of the community. If on the other hand the chain(business) has a documented history of anti-glbt policies the connection is much more clear.

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the issue. Your article is certainly well timed as we seem to be entering a period where lots of different voices are calling for boycotts of various companies for various reasons.

I don't think we should be calling for or supporting boycotts against anyone or any organization unless we (1) can identify a clear wrong against the community, (2) have a clear idea of what specifically we want to accomplish (3) what constitutes success, (4) a reasonable expectation what we will be widely supported, and (5) a reasonable expectation that we can succeed. Otherwise, I fear, we will start to look like the boy who cried wolf.

I like your idea about an article on the relationship between labor and glbt activism. How tough a sell do you think it is to convince rank and file labor to embrace the idea that glbt issues are labor issues? The film "Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story" (based on a true story) shows an enlightened labor view of glbt equal rights.

I look forward to reading your future piece.


Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with your five criteria - are you sure you've never been part of a labour union? ;-) Your points sound pretty savvy to me! I've been mulling over the issue even before and beyond this initial piece. One additional concern I have about economic boycotts, especially like the one over at the Manchester Hyatt, is that they make it difficult/impossible for people to express their political opinions without fear of losing their livelihoods. A friend of mine points out that Doug Manchester is a rich guy, and it's fair game to go after him - but my concern arises when smaller businesses in much smaller towns face these backlashes. In addition, what happens when business owners, big and small, are also members of the communities they work in? Do they silence their political views? And how does that make for any kind of productive civil/public space?

My friend G. pointed out that, in the small town where she grew up, business owners were afraid to speak their minds at town halls and such for fear that their customers might stop patronising them. I do think that can apply to cities as well, especially as a progressive business community begins to emphasise the importance of "local businesses."

As to the question of getting labour to embrace lgbt issues, I think some of that work is happening, but it seems that the marriage issue is taking over the landscape of union-lgbt joint organising. But I'd want to know what gets defined *as* an LGBT issue first. Anti-discrimination laws, yes. Ensuring that workers aren't harassed or fired for their sexual orientation, yes. But unions deciding that marriage has to be the ultimate goal and that domestic partnerships are a shoddy substitute (as indicated in my pie? Not so much. Unfortunately, at this point, we're in danger, I think, of losing sight of the broader connections between the lgbt community and the labour movement.

Thanks for the film reference; I'll be sure to check it out. And I'll be sure to keep you posted on the next incarnation of this.

I followed the link because the description was that it was LGBT oriented and when I got there it was only about gays and lesbians. Please, if your link is to an article that is not inclusive don't describe it as such because some bi or trans people might not appreciate being told that an article is LGBT and then finding that it isn't inclusive. We fight hard for realistic actual inclusion in discourse.