Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV) is an annual celebration of the lives and contributions of trans people, created in 2010 to draw attention to the community’s successes and also draw attention to the discrimination, violence, and other systemic challenges that trans communities face. This year, local unions with engaged and active trans members are throwing a party. On Friday March 31, Howard Brown Health Workers United (HBHWU) and Berlin Union, both groups that are under a year old, are having a TDOV solidarity building event. The groups scheduled the event on TDOV to highlight the fact that both are led primarily by trans and queer people trying to improve working conditions at their jobs.
HBHWU formally passed a unionization vote and was recognized last August, but workers at Berlin Nightclub are still organizing and preparing for their upcoming union vote on April 4. Workers from Howard Brown told the Reader that they were excited about Berlin’s unionization effort and interested in supporting them, especially since many of them attend the club themselves and consider it an important venue in Chicago’s queer community.
“I, myself am a trans woman; there are a number of other trans people . . . in [HBHWU] at large,” said Andrea Villanueva, a retention in care specialist at Howard Brown Health, as well as a member of the HBHWU bargaining committee. “We feel that it’s important to build solidarity with other unions, especially ones that are led by queer and trans people. The goal of the event is to build that, and to highlight the intersection between labor rights, trans rights, and queer rights.”
Villanueva started at Howard Brown two and a half years ago and works with patients living with HIV, which is a chronic condition that requires consistent care. In her role, she and another worker monitor whether patients are coming in on a regular basis for their HIV care and appointments. If a patient reaches a six to 12 month gap in services, Villanueva is the person in charge of getting that person back in touch with their provider and back on track to consistently attending appointments.
Villanueva has been part of the organizing campaigns at Howard Brown since February 2022. She believes that the ethos of the Trans Day of Visibility event is that there can be no true liberation of queer people without the liberation of working-class queer people.
“Trans people are under attack in American society right now and around the world. It can be really easy to feel powerless in those situations, and I think labor organizing is something that has made me feel a lot more in control of my life and my living situation,” Villanueva said. “The fact that I am able to fight for better working conditions for myself and all the other people at my organization, especially the other trans people . . . our ability to create better protections for ourselves in our workplace through contract negotiations . . . can make your life better at a time when a lot of people are trying to make your life worse.”
Howard Brown Health Workers United was certainly not the first HIV and AIDS-focused clinic to unionize. HIV and AIDS care providers have been unionizing since the 80s. As a bargaining unit of almost 450 people, HBHWU is one of the largest newly-organized bargaining units to be recently created . As an organization that is led by and caters to queer and trans people, the organizers themselves can feel the influence they’ve had on unions throughout the city.
HBHWU have been building solidarity with the “coffee unions” in Chicago, especially organizers mobilizing Starbucks workers. The national chain is a popular employer for trans people, some of whom seek work there because it is one of the few corporate workplaces where trans folks can get most of the aspects of their health care covered.Workers at six Starbucks locations in the city recently joined a three-day nationwide strike for unfair labor practices. The union at Brave Space Alliance (BSA), a Black-led, trans-led, LGBTQ+ Center located on the south side of Chicago, formed last March, and HBHWU worked with BSA members early in the clinic’s campaign to unionize.
At the HBHWU and Berlin Union event, DJ Ty-Jones will provide music. Before the party truly kicks off, the event will begin with a panel discussion hosted by Villanueva and featuring trans union workers from organizations throughout the city, including Colectivo Coffee, IATSE 476 (which represents those working behind the scenes in film, television, and theater production), and Northwestern University’s Graduate Student Union.
If you’re queer, trans, and in a union—or queer and trans and not sure if you can unionize, head to the party and talk to some of the organizers. They’re eager to see you. “We want to build solidarity and we want to encourage other queer and trans people to do what we’ve done,” Villanueva said. “Everyone should be in a union, especially trans people.”
Trans Day of Visibility Party featuring DJ Ty-Jones, Fri 3/31, 8 PM, pop-up space at 2138 W. Cermak, free, proof of COVID-19 vaccination required for entry, BYOB
Other events to be aware of for TDOV:
Trans Joy and Chicago’s Transgender Community discussion featuring a cash bar, Fri 3/31, 6 PM, Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark, $20, $15 for museum members
Second annual Trans Visibility Pageant featuring performances by former Miss Continental Jazell Barbie Royale, current Trans Visibility title holder Keri Traid, Switch the Boi Wonder, Terry D’Mor, and more, Fri 3/31, 7 PM, Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington, $20-$75
Berlin Union workers and others will march in support of a unionized workplace at Berlin Nightclub, Sat 4/1, 8 PM, meet at N. Broadway and Bradley.