1:41 PM Eastern - Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Power, and Importance, of Coming Out #default

Mary Kay Henry Portrait BW.jpgAs the President of SEIU, perhaps the best part of my job is the time I spend with the 2.1 million janitors, home care workers, snow plow drivers, nurses and other working people who make up our union. Whether I am in Milwaukee or Los Angeles, Seattle or Houston, I have the great privilege of being introduced by one of our incredible members, often as the big sister in a family of ten, a Catholic, a lesbian, a determined organizer of healthcare workers, a Michigander, and as the International President of SEIU.

Inevitably, the public introduction is followed by a series of private conversations. The janitor encouraged to step out in their own leadership. The friend who "didn't know" and made a decision to reconsider her own prejudices. The home care worker who understands, implicitly, that what the extreme-right wing wants most is to use identity as a strategy to divide and conquer, and escalate the attack on our democracy. And the school cafeteria worker called to action by the knowledge that some of their coworkers are paying more for healthcare because of regressive, discriminatory marriage laws, further contributing to historic economic inequality.
From each of these conversations comes an incredibly humbling reminder of the importance, and the power, of coming out - not just for the LGBT community, but for every American.

You see, working people's commitment to win LGBT equality is a reflection of our deep-seated commitment to equality for all people. It is a commitment reaffirmed by the stories from members of our Armed Forces who desired nothing more than to serve openly and honestly, and ultimately pushed Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And it is a commitment lifted by the strength and courage of millions of Americans who are standing up and stepping out to win respect and dignity for their families in Maine, Washington, and elsewhere.

Day in and day out, I am inspired by the authentic understanding of equality - and vision of how we achieve equality - shared by working people across this country. For us, it is simple; we cannot achieve economic equality until we close the education gap, reaffirm religious tolerance as an American value, end racial inequities, achieve equality for women and LGBT people, and win justice for immigrants.

And while we are making incredible progress, we know our work has just begun.
This November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington will consider ballot measures that expand marriage rights to all loving and committed couples. Meanwhile, voters in Minnesota could become the first in the country to defeat a regressive marriage amendment. Next year, we will do what it takes to pass a truly inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that ensures no person can be fired from his or her job because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Winning in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota, or passing ENDA, would not just be a victory for the LGBT community, but a victory for any American who counts equality among the most basic tenets of a free and just America.
When I think about the incredible work being done by SEIU's Lavender Caucus and SEIU members across this country, I am reminded of how grateful I feel to be able stand, as I am, in solidarity with a much larger, richly diverse tapestry of people who are fighting for equality, dignity and respect in this country

Follow Mary Kay Henry on Twitter @MaryKayHenry

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