CAW LGBT History

CAW Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History


The Canadian Auto Workers union is formed as a breakaway from the United Auto Workers. The first CAW Constitution contains Article 2 - Objectives -"To unite all workers who are under the jurisdiction of CAW-Canada into one organization without regard to ... sexual preference ..." This reference had not been included in the UAW Constitution. In 1994 the language is changed to "sexual orientation".


Our first CAW Lesbian and Gay caucuses are formed in Toronto and Vancouver, mainly to tackle the issue of sex-sex benefits. By 2001, we also have active caucuses in Windsor, London, the Golden Horseshoe (Ontario) and Oshawa-Toronto East- Peterborough.


Six CAW members, with the assistance of the union, file human rights complaints against Canadian Airlines for its refusal to recognize same-sex spouses for benefit coverage. A year later a similar complaint is brought against Air Canada.


The CAW begins sending information on LGBT issues out to grievors in the form of mailings. By 1993 these 'mailings' became the CAW Black & Pink Triangle newsletter - photocopies of relevant articles and updates.


CAW successfully negotiates same-sex pension benefits at CAMI. The union forces the company to have same-sex pension benefits paid out of general revenue, until the pension issue with the federal government can be resolved (which doesn't take place until 1998 in Rosenberg v. Canada).


The first lesbian caucus at a CAW Women's Conference is held on a patio in the Cove at Port Elgin. A year later the first official Lesbian and Gay caucus is held at our 1994 CAW Convention in Quebec City.


CAW successfully negotiates same-sex pension benefits at Northern Telecom. By October of 1994, we have same-sex benefits at Nissan, Windsor Plastics, Art Gallery of Ontario, Pinkertons, Co-op housing federation of Toronto, Brampton Hydro, CAMI, Northern Telecom and Falconbridge Mines. Before the law changes in 2000 (which requires employers to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples), the CAW has successfully negotiated same-sex benefits in auto, rail, airline, hotel, auto parts -- in units with less than 100 people, to units with over 20,000 members; in units where there were some self-identified gays and lesbians; to units where there were none.

1994 April

A CAW local president comes to the microphone at April Council to challenge the union's stand in favour of negotiating same-sex benefits. President Buzz Hargrove as well as a number of other CAW leadership, rebut the local president's points and speak strongly in support of the Union's policy. They get a good round of applause from Council.

1994 May

CAW attends the 20th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress. Key leaders speak in favour of a policy statement on sexual orientation. The policy paper calls for action by leadership and rank and file to confront and eliminate discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in the labour movement , in the workplace and in society. The paper passes overwhelmingly.

1994 June

Bill 167, the Equality Rights Statutes Amendments Act, is introduced in the Ontario legislature. CAW president Buzz Hargrove writes to the government and attends a press conference of labour leaders urging passage of the Bill. Hargrove tells the press conference "This is clearly a question of human rights. It is long overdue. It should be supported by everyone in the legislature." Peggy Nash, assistant to the CAW president, speaks to a Bill 167 rally in Toronto's gay village. The CAW flag is at the rally, flying high.

1994 August

A policy paper entitled "Workers Rights - Human Rights: the same struggle" is adopted at the CAW Constitutional Convention. The policy statement calls for the elimination of racism, sexism and homophobia in society and in the union. Notice of a lesbian, gay and bisexual caucus is distributed in the kits of all the delegates and announced from the front of the hall.

1995 June

A workshop entitled "Discrimination Faced by Gay and Lesbian Members" is run at the CAW Human Rights Conference. A lesbian, gay and bisexual caucus is held.


The human rights complaint against Air Canada proceeds to a pre-hearing. A settlement is reached and all benefits except pensions are extended. Air Ontario, Air Alliance, Air B.C. and Air Nova follow suit. A hearing is held into Air Canada's refusal to extend pension benefits in March 1996. In September 1996, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal releases its ruling dismissing the complaint. The Tribunal rules that Air Canada does not need to extend benefits until the federal government amends the Income Tax Act and Pension Benefits Standards Act.

1995 June

Proud members carry the CAW flag in Toronto's Pride parade.


CAW produces a black and pink triangle pin for LGB members and allies. The pin's triangles are turned upwards, joining with a number of AIDS activists and coalition groups in signifying an active fight-back campaign.


At our CAW Collective Bargaining and Political Action Convention, delegates from all across the union vote to make bargaining same-sex benefits a key negotiating priority. Permission to withdraw same-sex benefits from the bargaining table can only be granted by CAW National President Buzz Hargrove.


CAW successfully negotiates same-sex benefits at General Motors (with the exception of pensions). In the same round of bargaining, the CAW negotiates right to refuse language explicitly covering harassment at the Big Three. Grievances are outstanding against Chrysler.

1997 October

The CAW National Office and several locals send a full delegation to the first CLC Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Conference in Ottawa.


The CAW Black & Pink Triangle: Working with Pride Policy Statement is passed at our Constitutional Convention in Vancouver, B.C.


In one workplace in Ontario CAW members negotiate same-sex benefits on behalf of the twenty-five self-identified lesbians who work in the plant. Once the benefits are announced, another twenty-two come out. That's forty-seven members that the CAW now truly represents, workers whose wages and relationships had previously been denied.

1998 March

An arbitrator orders Chrysler to provide all non-pension benefits to the partners of its lesbian and gay employees. The arbitrator did not award pension benefits but said that Chrysler should change its policy as soon as the law changes.


A human rights complaint filed by a CAW member in 1994 against CN is finally settled. The complaint was filed when CN refused to accept the CAW member's same-sex partner for benefit registration. As a result of the member's complaint and the mounting decisions in favour of lesbians and gays, CN extends same-sex benefits to it employees in 1996. It still takes until 1998 for CN settle the member's complaint with a payment for expenses and pain and suffering.


CAW Pride banners begin to reflect our growing movement - the words "Bisexual" and "Transgender" are added to the words "Lesbian & Gay" on Regional Caucus banners. In 2001 the CAW produces an all-inclusive Pride flag: a rainbow of triangles and the CAW logo.


At our CAW Collective Bargaining and Political Action Convention, delegates vote to adopt bargaining proposals that recognize, for the first time, the inclusion of transgender members in our union.


The 1st CAW National Working with Pride conference is held at our Family Education Centre in Port Elgin. Over 100 delegates from across the country attend. The new CAW Pride poster is launched. The Conference is the springboard for the launch of two new caucuses: Oshawa & Area Caucus, and the Golden Horseshoe Caucus, both in Ontario.


The new CAW Pride flag flies in Pride Parades across the country. CAW puts on its first float in the Toronto Parade (winning us the distinction of 'most grassroots' by the Toronto Star), and our CAW Vancouver participation brings us an award from the Vancouver Pride Committee. Caucuses and individual CAW members are active in Pride Parades across the country.


The newsletter "CAW Pride in Print" is officially launched and distributed to all local union presidents, recording secretaries, human rights committees, women's committees, education committees and, of course, LGBT caucuses.


The 1st CAW Regional Working with Pride Conference is held on the West Coast, in Vancouver, British Columbia


2nd CAW National Pride Conference is held at the Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario.


A new Pride Policy Statement is passed at 7th CAW Constitutional Convention in Toronto, Ontario. Commitments include continued promotion of the one day Confronting Homophobia workshop, especially for union leadership; pro-active enforcement of the CAW anti-harassment policy and continued negotiation of anti-harassment training in all workplaces; same-sex benefit inclusion and expansion in collective agreements, and transgender rights; encouragement and removal of barriers to participation by LGBT members in the union, as well as the creation of an LGBT Advisory Committee to CAW Council; activism on a host of legal initiatives including the addition to the Criminal Code of hate crimes against the LGBT community, inclusion of gender identity within human rights codes, amendment of documents that assume heterosexual parents, and the right to same-sex marriage.


New Pride materials are produced in including a postcard, sticker, picket signs and a pamphlet/poster using the slogan "Pride in our Union; Out in the World".


CAW Regional Pride Conference is held in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Canadian Labour Congress distributes copies of the "Transgender Discussion Paper", after two years of extensive consultation with trade unions and the trans community.  The paper asks and answers important questions about the role of the union movement in supporting and negotiating on behalf of trans members.


CAW Local 222 President, Mike Shields, and the Oshawa Area LGBT Caucus rally around the case of Marc Hall, a young gay man who is denied the right to bring his boyfriend to his (Catholic) high school prom.  With the vocal, financial and moral support of our union, Marc Hall evneyally wins his case against the Durham Catholic School Board at the Supreme Court of Ontario.

Our 3rd National CAW Pride Conference focuses on "Working Class Pride: Our Roots, Our Struggles, Our Communities".  At a regional level, the CAW participates in the LGBT CLC Community Forum in St. John's Newfoundland, and we held our CAW Pride Atlantic Conference in Halifax.

The CAW takes an active role in the Canadians for Equal Marriage coalition and activists and leadership call on politicians to equalize marriage. 

The CAW Golden Horseshoe Caucus holds their first (of many) Niagara Region Hallowe'en Dance, opening up the local 199 union hall to a pride dance that raised over $2700 for Amnesty International, Trans of Niagara, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and other community groups.


CAW President Buzz Hargrove along with other union leaders presses the Paul Martin Government to pass equal marriage legislation.  The final vote for Bill C-38 takes place in June and passes 158 - 133.  CAW activists take the issue to our members and distribute "Because it is.." equal marriage stickers and information.  CAW LGBT members, pride caucuses and many, many of our allies contact their MPs to push forward the bill. 


After more than a year of facing the threat that our right to marry would be taken away, on December 7th, 2006 Members of Parliament rejected Stephen Harper's motion to re-open the divisive equal marriage debate.  The vote wasn't even close, with the motion being defeated by a vote of 123 to 175. The spread between equal marriage supporters and opponents more than doubled from the previous year's vote and in every single party the percentage of MPs that voted for equality increased. That increase reflects the growing consensus among Canadians that equal marriage is settled.
The CAW participates in the International Worker's Out Conference in Montreal, as part of the 1st World Out Games.  Several hundred trade unionists from around the world adopt an Action Plan that includes calls for increased union education on LGBT issues, the establishment of HIV/AIDS union and workplace policies, and greater cooperation between unions on LGBT issues.

The XVI International AIDS Conference is held in Toronto - Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not attend, but CAW activists do. 

CAW Local 707 participates in May 17th International Day Against Homophobia activities, distributing Pride pamphlets and May 17th leaflets at plant gates.

We now have twelve LGBT caucuses across the country, including several local union standing committees.


Our 4th National Pride Conference on "Creating Safer Workplaces" brings together CAW LGBT activists and our allies to assess our workplaces and create action plans for dealing with workplace issues of harassment and violence.  We also take time to celebrate the Equal Marriage victory, with champagne and cake, and weave a tapestry to commemorate our struggles.

The CAW creates and distributes over 15,000 copies of a new Allies Booklet: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Issues. well, maybe not everything!  Local union leadership distribute the booklets in the workplace, at plant gates and at union and community meetings.  The Canadian Labour Congress produces a generic version of the booklet, and prints an additional 15,000 copies.

Local 199 in St. Catherine's cancels the rental of their local union hall upon discovering the venue was to be used for a concert by "Elephant Man", a group that incites violence against gays and lesbians.

Three new CAW LGBT caucuses are formed.


CAW President Buzz Hargrove supports MP Bill Siksay's Private Member's Bills calling for the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination (Canadian Human Rights Act) and as part of the Hate Crimes Legislation.