An Open Letter to the LGBT Community: We Need Labor

First they came after our families, now they are coming after our allies.

The same folks who brought us Prop. 8 four years ago, and a campaign full of lies, hate and division, are back, and this time they are targeting one of our biggest allies -- union members.

What makes this even more troubling is that now they are backed by tea party mega-funders David and Charles Koch, among others.

We can't let them win again.

The fight for full equality is far from over and our biggest, most consistent ally could be put out of the game, at least here in California. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities owe much of our progress to organized labor.

If California's Proposition 32 -- the so-called "special interest money initiative"-- passes, organized labor in California will never again have the ability to fund ballot measure fights for our communities, or to support or oppose candidates for office who matter to us. But corporations and the wealthy will retain that ability, without shareholder approval, without asking anyone but their bankers.

Prop. 32 was put on the ballot and is bankrolled by some of the same people who brought us Prop. 8: Howard Ahmanson and Larry T. Smith. They are joined by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who brought us Citizens United and Super PACs. And now, Charles Munger, Jr., has recently put another $4 million of his inheritance into the venture.

What does Prop. 32 do? It takes union members (read: people who work for a living, like, say nurses, firefighters, policemen, janitors, teachers, school bus drivers) out of politics by forbidding the collection of money for politics through payroll deduction. Essentially, the Kochs/Ahmanson/Munger gang are trying to disarm labor at the same time tea party-backed Super PACs have been made more powerful, and less restricted, by Citizens United.

In the ideal world of the Kochs and Mr. Munger, rich people and corporations would be able to put anything they want on the ballot and fund or oppose any candidate they want, while organized labor has to sit on the sidelines. If you have lots of money, you like this. If you are the rest of the country, you should be deadly afraid of this.

Let's look at the funding against Prop. 8 four years ago. Of the major donors to the No on 8 campaign, the largest by far was organized labor.

SEIU's members, led at the time by Sal Rosselli, the openly gay president of the newly formed NUHW, put in and collected from other unions over $750,000, much of it for member-to-member communication, which would be impossible under Prop. 32 . The California Teachers Association, led at the time by openly gay President David Sanchez, put in $1.3 million. Other labor unions collectively put in $817,000. That's a total of at least $2,867,000. Four years ago, before marriage and equality had become "cool," corporations put in a total of $430,000. Rich gay people put in a total of $4.5 million. The rest came from small dollar donors, but it came late. And remember that labor's money is from small dollar donors, too. Hundreds of thousands of members contribute to make these larger contributions possible.

Labor was there from the beginning. And, in politics, early and consistent money makes all the difference.

The Kochs' agenda could not be more clear: take away progressives' ability to work and fund ballot initiatives and candidates so they can come in with their billions of dollars and advance their far right-wing causes without serious opposition.

In the summer of 2008, UNITE HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union, together with Fred Karger, Courage and others, began what would be a two year boycott of San Diego's Manchester Hyatt because its then owner, Doug Manchester, had put the last $125,000 in to put Prop. 8 on the ballot. Labor was with us. We were with labor.

Don't kid yourself. If labor is stripped of their ability to assert political influence, our community will lose. Want a more recent example?

In early September, a group of labor and community leaders -- for the most part not LGBT -- signed a letter to Governor Brown asking that he sign a bill banning conversion therapy.

Even though this is not "their issue," labor leaders got that it's important to Courage members, to the LGBT communities and as a broader progressive cause. They worked through a process and then, one by one, they signed on. Look at the list. California labor unions represent some 2.5 million workers. The community leaders did not have time to process the issue through their membership, but they signed on as individuals. And Marc Nathanson, a major philanthropist, quickly joined because they know we're all in this together.

Over the weekend, Governor Brown signed the measure led by Senator Ted Lieu, which makes California the first state to ban what the Governor calls "quackery." Lives will be saved. Precedent is made. Other states will follow.

It's time for the LGBT communities to line up to oppose Prop. 32. You may have mixed feelings about labor unions, but the evidence is clear: If we lose organized labor as a funded political ally in California -- and thus nationally see a reduction by one-third or more in capacity for political spending by labor -- the LGBT movement is in big trouble.

Friends are not the people who are there in the good times. Friends are the people who are there in the hard times. Our movement has known few better friends than labor.

If we want to build power for the long term, if we believe in progress for all Americans, this is our fight. It's not "their" fight.

If Prop. 32 passes, we'll wake up on November 7 having handed the most right-wing reactionary forces in America a victory that will forever change the LGBT movement and the movement for progress, not just in California, but nationally.

It's time to stand up for our friends, not just for one issue.