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On Saturday, May 19, the President of Pride at Work Michigan, Cynthia Thornton, received the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Rebel With A Cause Award for her “exemplary demonstration of leadership and inspiration to young workers everywhere, especially here in Michigan.” The award was part of the two-day 2018 Young Workers’ Conference held at the school’s Dearborn campus. Pride at Work is the local branch of a national nonprofit organization that represents LGBTQ union members and their allies and is officially recognized by the AFL-CIO.
“I found out give or take a month ago at a planning meeting that I was going to be receiving the award, but once I heard the name I was absolutely in love with it,” Thornton said. “Because, while I had never considered myself to be a rebel with a cause, that’s exactly what I am.”
Conference organizers described the event’s aim as being “open to all workers, union or non-union, and leaders from a variety of organizations to learn together about new ideas, strategies and skills to meet the needs and challenges facing workers in our ever-changing workplaces.” And the event has a focus on being inclusive to all “genders and all cultural or ethnic backgrounds.”
Thornton said that while it was an honor to receive the award, it only serves as a mile marker in her goals for furthering Pride at Work’s current goals.
“There’s two key things and I realized that last year, while my first inclination was to focus on the LGBTQ part, I realized that the allies were actually hurting quite a bit,” Thornton said, recalling an instance where allies were sometimes unsure how to support LGBTQ family members in non-inclusive work environments. “The practical thing I’m working on will be spending most of my time talking to elected officials and finding out where they are on LGBT issues and bringing them into that fight. Keeping that in mind how great a need there is in bringing in LGBTQ people into skilled trades.”
Thornton said that part of her latest Pride at Work initiative will be aimed at helping to foster LGBTQ-affirming work environments and finding jobs for those people who are not unskilled, but who have had issues finding work in the past because of their identities. She will be working with the AFL-CIO to aid with this.
“That is something that I’m cracking the door on,” Thornton said.
When asked why it is important to maintain an LGBTQ workers’ union, Thornton responded in reference to her activism.
“There’s the reality that nothing’s going to change without going through a political platform,” Thornton said. “So I’m inclined to build personal relationships and build understanding and acceptance.”
Thornton said that anyone who is interested in joining Pride at Work or supports the cause, can follow the local branch’s social media accounts to get started, or give them a direct call.
“We are on Facebook, as Pride at Work Michigan, and we actually encourage people to to either become members of send donations,” Thornton said. “Because all of the trainings and things that we do are free but we do have to pay to get into pride festivals, etc. So, if you believe in this work and you believe it is worthwhile but maybe you don’t want to put yourself on the line, make a donation. Interact with us on Facebook, tell us about the issue that you are experiencing which is particularly relevant right now.”
Pride at Work Michigan can be reached either by calling 313-757-5413 or by going online to gaybe.am/7B.