CUPE is committed to fighting injustice and strives for equality for all of its members, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability or sexual orientation. At our 1991 National Convention, the National Pink Triangle Committee was struck.
The Pink Triangle was chosen as it was the symbol used in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War to identify homosexuals for the purposes of extermination. The symbol has become internationally recognized as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride.
The most reliable studies indicate that anywhere between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of the population identifies as either lesbian or gay, with the number increasing when those who identify themselves as bisexual are included. The 10 per cent figure is most commonly cited.
Using this percentage, it would mean that in Canada at least 3 million people, or in CUPE, 48,000 of our members, officers and staff, identify themselves as lesbian or gay. It is likely that lesbians and gay men are present in all workplaces in Canada. Yet, despite this presence, their very existence is still denied.
Homophobia and Heterosexism
The reason lesbians and gay men are still discriminated against is complex, but one indisputable fact is that the world we all know and live in is based on a heterosexual model.
Society as a whole, whether it be our union, the medical profession, the school system, the judiciary, the mainstream media or religious groups, assumes that everyone is heterosexual and exists within heterosexual relationships. Other forms of sexual orientation then become something that is other, which can raise peoples fears. Fear of lesbians and gay men homophobia can lead to discrimination.
As unionists, it is no more acceptable to tolerate heterosexism than it is to accept sexism, racism or ableism. We must educate ourselves and our members and become more sensitive to lesbian and gay co-workers, ensuring a safe environment.
The mandate of the National Pink Triangle Committee is to educate with the express intention of eliminating homophobia through activism and visibility. We cannot do it alone. We need the support and commitment of every CUPE member, executive board member and staff person to make our union a better one.
A challenging self-test
Can you imagine what it is like to be a lesbian, gay man or bisexual in our society? Heres a self-test to help you assess your awareness and understanding of how it feels to be lesbian or gay in a predominantly heterosexual and homophobic world. As you read this script, try to visualize yourself in your home, on the street and in your own workplace.
Walking in my shoes
You wake to a beautiful spring morning, take a shower, dress and sit down to breakfast. You glance outside, enjoying the sunshine and noticing the flowers are starting to bloom. Its a work day but its very different. Today you are a heterosexual person living in a gay world and you are the minority.
You dont feel any different. You glance at the morning newspaper and listen to the radio. Its almost time to leave for work. Wait a newspaper headline catches your eye: Straights granted equality rights but no to marriage. You shake your head as you remember how years ago your partner was denied coverage under your benefits plan because the system didnt recognize your relationship.
The comics tell of funny mishaps in a family of two men and their two children. You wonder how your own father is doing. He hasnt spoken to you in 10 years, not since you first told him you were straight.
On the way to work, you hear a radio playing a catchy song about the love between two women. Then you hear a news report. It blames unchecked heterosexuality on a recent population explosion.
At your worksite, you share a coffee break with your co-workers. As usual, everyone is talking about their same sex spouses or their latest same sex love interest. You want to share your own story but you cant, you are heterosexual. Youre afraid of how theyll react.
A notice is being passed around your workplace. It announces the upcoming wedding of two men who work in another department. A party is being organized for friends and spouses. You know from experience that you and your opposite sex partner would not be invited or feel comfortable attending.
A short distance away, other workers are laughing. You overhear the jokes punch line its the cruelest kind of humour playing on heterosexual stereotypes. One person adds a crude comment and you notice many in the group laugh louder.
You walk away with a knot in your stomach. You feel very alone. You wonder if telling the others how offensive the joke was to you would have help