For Matthew Bessell, advocating for the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been a decades long labor of love. After coming out in the late 1970s, he was inspired by the activism of iconic social justice leaders, such as Bayard Rustin. Through the leadership and action of others Matthew found community and solidarity more than 40 years ago.
“In addition, living through the AIDS War years and losing friends, and seeing the compassion of my fellow LGBT friends, Americans and folks internationally in that fight, deeply informed me around what a sense of justice and compassion can entail,” says Matthew.
As an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Matthew has brought this sense of community to the agency and his union, AFGE Local 1843. Through collaboration, Matthew has assisted in growing the EEO LGBT Special Emphasis Program throughout the agency and created an email group for LGBT employees and allies. Matthew credits the support of his local in accomplishing these strides within the VA.
While finding support at the local level, Matthew recognizes that there is still work to be done within the labor community. “And let’s also not forget that there is homophobia and transphobia in our union halls. Yet when our members learn the courage it takes to be a person of color, a person with disabilities, a LGBT employee, a person from another culture, etc., and we reach for the human commonalities in the struggles that we all share, shifts happen, things do change.”
“Knowing the connection and truth behind the wisdom that LGBT Americans are everywhere, across diverse demographics, remains deeply affirming, uplifting and encouraging!”
Through his years of advocacy, Matthew is hopeful about the future of AFGE and its involvement in LGBT labor rights issues. “AFGE for the future around LGBT issues I hope will continue from convention floor podiums, to share that there will be meeting spaces to welcome LGBT trade unionists and allies when gathered in large meetings to come together and meet and discourse around the challenges LGBT Americans face in AFGE, the labor movement and workplaces.”
“Thanks you AFGE for believing in the beauty and power of diversity, and for asking to hear of one union foot soldier’s work to bring these yet to be United States and our people closer to the solidarity of respect for human love!”