My mentor, former Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman used to often say that “work is more than a source of income; it is also a source of dignity.” That quote is particularly relevant for LGBT workers, and it illustrates the importance of identifying and highlighting ways that foster and promote the dignity of all work and the dignity of all workers.
So that’s why I am very proud to note during Pride Month that work-related LGBT literature, as well as LGBT authors whose books focus on work, are being recognized and lifted up as part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Books that Shaped Work in America project.
From George Chauncey’s “Gay New York” and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” to Leslie Feinberg’s “Stone Butch Blues” and Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City,” many of the new additions to the list show the relationship between work and the LGBT experience.
Because folks tend to forget that as our LGBT community advocated for greater protections from harassment and discrimination in the past decades, we were also demonstrating the societal and economic benefit of more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Many of the books reflect the struggle of being “different” in the workplace and the positive impact it has when employers accept and value all workers. Brian McNaught’s “Gay Issues in the Workplace,” for example, became the essential human resources guide to help employers understand the challenges faced by LGBT workers, and its recommendations are now part of the diversity policies of some of the nation’s largest corporations.
The Books that Shaped Work in America initiative bears witness to the nation’s promise of opportunity for everyone. This promise cannot be understood and fully appreciated without exploring the LGBT community’s struggle for equality and protections both in and out of the workplace. The LGBT experience is an important part of labor history and plays a critical role in the emerging 21st century American workplace.
Looking at LGBT issues through the lens of literature is an intriguing and out-of-the box way to start important conversations. Our online initiative, dol.gov/books, aims to engage the public about America’s history as a nation of workers (including LGBT workers) as portrayed through published works. It’s also a great way to learn about the Labor Department’s mission. The project serves as an online resource library where people from all walks of life can share books that inform them about occupations and careers, mold their views about work and help elevate the discourse about work, workers and workplaces.
Work is also constantly evolving and the Books that Shaped Work in America is no different – the inclusion of LGBT titles and authors to our list is just one example of that. To get the list started, 24 individuals, including current Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, eight former labor secretaries from Democratic and Republican administrations, civil rights leaders, authors and media personalities submitted suggestions. This month we added recommendations from contributors Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Interested in adding to the list? Suggest your own book here.
Carl Fillichio heads the Labor Department’s Office of Public Affairs.