Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America

20150806_201031(Pictured from the left: Connie Ashbrook, Miriam Frank, Madelyn Elder)

We frequently find our dear Executive Director Connie Ashbrook out and about in the media – TV Interviews and Magazine Articles. We also know that the incredible Madelyn Elder is Northwest famous in the labor community, only recently stepping down as president of CWA before starting work full time for OTI as our Chief Financial Officer (We are so lucky!). Rarely do we find both of these incredible women featured in one place! Yet, this is exactly what you get in Miriam Frank’s Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America.

On Thursday August 6, the Q Center hosted Frank for a reading from the book. To appeal to her audience, she shared quotes and stories from Portland area activists. During a passage featuring Elder, there was laughter as she realized everything (including a small bit of scandal!) that she had shared during the interview. It was at this time that the audience discovered that Elder and Ashbrook had been interviewed in 1995 – making their quotes deliciously new to them as well!  Frank, clearly fond of many of the attendees, casually interacted with the audience and invited them to comment and build on stories they had shared for the book – creating an atmosphere of community and camaraderie.

If you want a little taste right now, here are a couple of short quotes:

“Connie Ashbrook came out at work in the early 1990s.  The ultraconservative Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) proposed Measure 9 (1992) … to mandate the firing of LGBT workers…Although the elevator construction industry was nobody’s target, Ashbrook came out at work merely by displaying a “No on 9″ bumper sticker on her lunch box. She told her union business agent that the measure would harm her personally.” (pg. 27)

“I don’t think the New York guys were interested in the gay thing at all but they were pissed at the local leadership, and they saw it as a union democracy issue. Then there were two gay men who came, telephone operators. And then some white male installers showed up, guys from Seattle, with their crew cuts. They were going, “Where’s the gays?” And there I am with my little hand raised. It was frightening to get up and talk about gay rights.” (Elder, pg 88)

For those of us who advocate for Queer Rights and Workers’ Rights OR those who just want to know what role Labor Advocates played in the Queer Movement – this book is for you. And Miriam Frank wrote this as oral histories, so you have a chance to get to know advocates who pushed the movement forward.  Plus, it is a great way to get to know both Connie and Madelyn a little better – from their own voices 20 years ago. If you buy the book from Amazon, remember that you can do a little good for OTI at the same time, and support us with Amazon Smile.