VANCOUVER—For union members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (LGBT) or in between genders, the future is looking brighter in the wake of CUPE BC’s first ever Pink Triangle conference, held at the Renaissance Hotel on the weekend.
The conference, “Building Strong Communities with Pride”, attracted more than 35 CUPE and HEU activists from throughout the province to meet, review the progress made on LGBT rights, discuss existing challenges and develop strategies for tackling some of the barriers that still exist in society and the workplace.
CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock, in his welcoming remarks, paid tribute to LGBT activists for their efforts in educating the rest of the CUPE membership.
“True social change doesn’t come from above — it comes from within, from members like you,” he said. “So, in a sense, this conference is as much a celebration of those efforts as…an opportunity to work on strategies that will help make things even better.”
Vancouver East Member of Parliament Libby Davies, in an impassioned keynote address, warned of the potential threat to rights already won if the Stephen Harper Conservatives win a majority government in the upcoming federal election. She also applauded CUPE for the union’s stance in support of safer conditions for sex workers, whose issues are often marginalized by potential allies because of moral judgements about prostitution.
A Saturday morning panel, introduced by CUPE National Equality representative Conni Kilfoil, featured human rights lawyer Anita Braha, gender identity issues activist Erica Williams and Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson.
Braha provided context for today’s LGBT activists by reviewing the past 30 years of developments in human rights law. Stevenson addressed the equal marriage debate and shared personal experiences of his activism as a student, United Church minister, MLA and civic politician. And Williams captivated delegates with a fascinating speech that challenged conventional wisdom about gender identity and explored examples of “in between” experience seldom discussed even in the LGBT communities.
The workshops focussed on three themes: eliminating homophobia by educating youth, members and communities; building alliances in the labour movement and the broader community; and creating a vibrant and safe working environment for LGBT union members.
Delegates wrapped up each workshop by developing policy recommendations to bring forward to their locals and the B.C. division. Some of the recommendations, after being recorded by CUPE BC’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination (CARD), will be brought to division convention in May along with a report of the conference.
CUPE BC general vice president Bev LaPointe, who co-facilitated the homophobia workshop, closed the conference by urging delegates to take the lessons they’d learned back to their locals and communities.