Sask. labour organizations partner with advocacy group on queer rights initiative ahead of election

The province's largest union and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) have joined forces with Queer Momentum, a national non-profit organization that focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy.

The partnership is an effort to build support for 2SLGBTQ+ rights and oppose anti-queer and trans laws, policies and political platforms.

CUPE Saskatchewan and the SFL have hired what they call an "organizer," in partnership with Queer Momentum. This person, whose name will be announced in the coming days, will focus on advocating and mobilizing for queer rights leading up to the provincial election in the fall.

Kent Peterson, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, said the work they plan to do is crucial. They want to turn people into allies.

"We are facing quite a few challenges in Saskatchewan as it relates to queer and trans rights. Chief among them is Scott Moe's hate-based policies and the abuse of the notwithstanding clause. I'm talking about Bill 137, where he stripped Charter rights away from Saskatchewan children," said Peterson, who is the first gay president of CUPE Saskatchewan.

Bill 137 makes parental consent required before a child under 16 can use a different gender-related name or pronoun at school. Premier Scott Moe has defended the bill by saying it protects parental rights.

Peterson calls the partnership between CUPE, the SFL and Queer Momentum the first of its kind in Canada.

"We represent thousands of workers who are [2SLGBTQ+]. And I have a responsibility in my own role to make sure I'm fighting for them and their rights and making sure that they're feeling safe and comfortable not only in their workplace, but in their communities," Peterson said.

Kent Peterson, left, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, and Fae Johnstone, executive director of Queer Momentum, have teamed up with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour to support 2SLGBTQ+ people and their rights in the province.
Kent Peterson, left, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, and Fae Johnstone, executive director of Queer Momentum, have teamed up with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour to support 2SLGBTQ+ people and their rights in the province. (Submitted by Kent Peterson)

The funding for the organizer is provided by CUPE and the SFL. Organizational support and infrastructure, including supplies and equipment, is provided by Queer Momentum. The organizer will work under the direction of Queer Momentum. The position was developed by the non-profit, which also did the hiring.

The successful candidate is currently being onboarded and trained. Their work will be focused on the election in the coming months, but the partnership and work will continue into the future, Peterson said.

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Queer Momentum, said in a news release that the partnership is an important step in the province.

"This partnership continues a long history of solidarity between labour and queer social justice movements as we work together to build a more free, equal and socially just future," Johnstone said.

Creating allies and momentum

CUPE Saskatchewan's president said those involved in the partnership are not just speaking with queer and trans folks — they are hoping to inspire new allies.

"We want to talk to everybody through this partnership because we all have a role to play to make sure that Saskatchewan is the kind of inclusive, welcoming and kind place that we want it to be," Peterson said.

He said discrimination can be found everywhere, and look different in different places. But he is optimistic that people from all walks of life can be allies.

"I choose to believe that for the vast majority of people, [discrimination] comes from a place of not knowing and it comes from a place of perhaps being uncertain or not understanding various aspects of what it means to be queer or trans," said Peterson.

Kent Peterson, middle, marches in the Regina Pride Parade in June.
Kent Peterson, middle, marches in the Regina Pride Parade in June. (Submitted by Kent Peterson)

He said he believes people often take their cues on how to respond from leaders.

"And so I actually don't think you can separate the work that needs to be done here in the province with the types of messaging we hear from Scott Moe and the Sask. Party government."

Peterson said the new organizer will work throughout the province on relationship building, providing education on the challenges queer and trans people face — and work on political activism.

Political expert says initiative is labour 'at its best'

Charles Smith, an associate professor of political science at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan, is supportive of CUPE and the SFL using their tools to mobilize support over what he calls a very important issue in a "marginalized community."

Smith said labour organizations have the tools to organize successful campaigns and projects.

"When they put their material resources to use organizing, to build stronger communities and to build on political issues, I think that's when labour's at its best," said Smith.

He said CUPE and the SFL have an advantage over traditional social movements, because they do not have to fundraise and operate through donations.

"They have dues-paying members and that surplus or dues can be used for very specific things," Smith said, "whether it's campaigning against very specific legislation, whether it's trying to build coalitions across the political spectrum or whether it's to, you know, affect social change leading up to an election."

Charles Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Saskatchewan's St. Thomas More College, says there is precedence in other provinces that have put language around classroom complexity in agreements.
Charles Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Saskatchewan's St. Thomas More College, says labour organizations can do a lot of good when putting their resources into social change initiatives. (Shlok Talati/CBC)

Smith called Bill 137 "harmful," and said many people in Saskatchewan feel "targeted" by it. He said that can lead to movements and initiatives like CUPE and the SFL's partnership with Queer Momentum

"It very much can lead to a political voice where there wasn't a political voice before."

Smith said there may be a pocket of voters in Saskatchewan who may have not historically been very engaged in the political process.

"Organizing allows those voices to kind of come to the forefront … to see political voice as a part of the narrative around change."

Smith said he thinks this kind of work by labour movements could inspire more people to head to voting boxes in the fall. Or, he said, the 2SLGBTQ+ organizer project could also simply help raise political awareness around why queer and trans issues matter.

Saskatchewan voters head to the polls in late October for the general election.