days until our Collective Agreement expires, we are preparing, we are united and we will make change.

Pink Triangle Committee Report – November 2009

Sisters and Brothers,

This report will bring members up to date on the work of the newly named Pink Triangle Committee.

Committee Name Change:

I am pleased to announce that the Component Executive gave approval to change the name of the Air Canada Component Benefits and Equity Committee to Air Canada Component Pink Triangle Committee.  Please allow me to explain.

“Benefits and Equity” could mean anything and often confuses our members who think this committee deals with all Benefit and Equality issues.

During the Second World War, up to a million homosexuals were arrested by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps simply because of their sexual orientation.  In these camps, prisoners were forced to wear triangles of various colours to identify them as “undesirables”.  For example, yellow triangles were worn by the Jews, red for political prisoners and the pink triangle was worn by homosexuals. Those who wore the pink triangle were treated as the lowest of the low and were subjected to torture, heinous medical experiments and the most gruesome methods of murder. 

Today, the name Pink Triangle and the Icon (inverted pink triangle), has been reclaimed from the Nazi era and has a symbol of remembrance to the suffering of others during a tragic time in history. 

I think our use of the Pink Triangle name and symbol is a tribute to those who were murdered in concentration camps, died in prisons, are currently being executed in some countries and to those who continue to suffer all forms of discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Airline Division Conference and CUPE National Convention:

In 2006 and again in 2008, I was asked by the President’s Office at CUPE National to represent CUPE at the XVI and XVII International AIDS Conferences.  What I experienced at these conferences moved my heart and soul to such a degree that I wrote three articles on the topic that were published by CUPE’s Communications Department and later by a couple of magazines who wanted first-hand accounts of delegates who had attended the conferences.  The articles can be found on the CUPE National website.

After doing some research, I discovered that CUPE doesn’t really have any up-to-date information/education and policies for our members even though in the last 27 years since HIV was discovered, an average of one (1) CUPE member per week has been infected with the virus. This realization further prompted me to lobby CUPE National to create a Working Group on HIV/AIDS.  

Recently, Health Canada noted trends of new HIV infections that have changed dramatically. Today, gay men’s infection rates have remained more or less stable while infections for young girls, older women, straight men and the aboriginal community have gone up exponentially.  It is a very worrisome development in the fight against this pandemic.

Much to my great relief and after much lobbying, CUPE National invited 50 people to Ottawa to work on recommendations for CUPE that would set things in motion for the creation of an HIV/AIDS Working Group.

As a result of this work, a few resolutions were submitted to National Convention for its consideration.  I sent these resolutions to our Air Canada Locals along with other equality and human rights resolutions.

At the CUPE Convention and Airline Division Conference in October, I was slated to chair LGBT caucus meetings, organize floor strategies to get support for our resolutions, staff the equality information table, assist with the Convention Equality Forum, give my LGBT reports to the Airline Division and to the National Convention floors, help host our LGBT social evening and speak to those resolutions that were crucial to ensuring true equality for our LGBT members. I was also able to replace another Toronto delegate who was unable to attend. 

Homophobia and Committee Funding:

I would like to begin simply by stating that all evidence indicates a rise in incidents of homophobia throughout the world.  While more work and outreach needs to be done in order to represent our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) members on an international scale, the budget for the Benefits and Equity committee is woefully lacking.  Please allow me to explain.

The main focus of the committee in the past has been to advance the rights of our LGBT members here in Canada.  We have worked diligently to combat homophobia in the union, in the workplace and in our communities and we have successfully secured benefits for our members with same-sex domestic partners.

For the last 9 years, I’ve worked closely with CUPE’s National Pink Triangle Committee (NPTC) to continue the fight for social justice and to show fellow Canadians that we stand together for members of all equality-seeking groups.  While we celebrate our many victories around same-sex rights, we are reminded of the importance for continued activism to ensure commitments to human rights on a domestic and international scale. 

As a result of this constant vigilance, and the many hard fought court battles that have denounced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, governments in Canada and all over the world are slowly amending legislation to better acknowledge the LGBT community and same-sex couples.  Unfortunately, there is also a rather negative backlash to these gains.  The old adage of “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” definitely seems to apply in this situation.

In countries and regions around the world, people, (including our members) are being subjected to ever increasing and persistent human rights violations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These human rights violations take many forms, such as criminal sanctions either legal or at the hands of corrupt police and other authorities; the death penalty; hate crimes including sexual violence; discrimination in housing, education, health and employment; banning of peaceful Pride marches; and the denial of same-sex relationships and families.

While LGBT rights and protections are indeed well afforded to us here in Canada, there are still far too many countries that do not offer the same rights, benefits and protections under the law.

Fear and intimidation play a big part in our ability to deal with current threats to our LGBT members.  Some may be afraid that if they report any form of homophobia during international layovers, Air Canada will discipline them for getting into trouble   or that their passports will be flagged or that they will be subjected to other forms of harassment should they return to the same destination.

Whether we like it or not, it seems our fight is moving from a domestic pursuit of equal rights to an international endeavor of protection and rights for our LGBT members.

CUPE as well as other Unions in many countries have made significant progress on overcoming job-related discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  If we are going to continue this work internationally, we must be able to forge relationships with LGBT organizations from different nations so that our members can have access to critical resources while on layover.

That is why international conferences such as the one that took place in Copenhagen this Summer, are crucial for setting up contacts that would otherwise be too difficult to find through conventional methods. It is incumbent upon us to have a presence at these types of Conferences.

Every day, our members find themselves on the front lines of these battles against homophobia.  We owe it to them to ensure that they will have someone to turn to should they find themselves being harassed by local authorities or are sub
jected to homophobic violence while on international layovers.

This concludes my report.  Should you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

In solidarity,

Gerry Lavallee
Chairperson, Pink Triangle Committee
Air Canada Component