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From legislative attacks on the rights of trans people, drag performers, and queer people spreading to statehouses around the country like wildfire, to rightwing media relentlessly spewing fascistic anti-LGBTQ+ messages, to far-right groups ramping up their intimidation tactics and violent assaults to force LGBTQ+ people back into the closet, Pride month feels different in 2023. And yet, the rebellious, liberatory spirit of Pride persists, and the struggle for equality, acceptance, and the right to pursue what makes us happy continues — and the labor movement must be a source of strength in that struggle. How far has the labor movement come in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights? How far do we still have to go? And what role can and should labor play in the broader, necessary fight for LGBTQ+ liberation and against the fascist attacks on our fellow workers, our neighbors, and our loved ones? We talk to Fae Weichsel, a first assistant cameraperson and member of IATSE Local 600, where they also serve on the National Executive Board and co-chair the Young Workers Committee, and Jessica Gonzalez, who has worked in the video game industry for the past decade, is currently a lead technical test analyst for a video game company, and is a founder of A Better ABK (Activision-Blizzard-King Workers Alliance) and the Game Workers Alliance.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Fae Weichsel: My name is Fae Weichsel. My pronouns are they/them. I’m an IATSE Local 600 member, the International Cinematographers Guild, where I work as a rank and file first assistant camera person, also known as a focus puller. I am also a national executive board member with Local 600, and the co-chair and the co-founder of the Young Workers of the Eastern Region.
Jessica Gonzalez: My name is Jessica Gonzalez. I am a lead technical test analyst at a video game studio. I have a pretty long history of working in games, probably about a decade in quality assurance and started at Activision, went around from a few like AAA Studios, so like Treyarch, Blizzard, and tried indie. So I’ve been all over the place with that, but definitely wanted to stay in games and software development. I am a founder of A Better ABK, which is Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance, which is a group of former and current employees at Activision Blizzard King who are working together for change. It’s like a collective effort of rank and file workers who are trying to change the industry for the better because there’s obviously a lot of like… it’s seen as a frat boy culture or a boys’ club, right?
So there’s definitely a lot of initiative to move away from that kind of stuff, and so that’s what a lot of the work that I did with A Better ABK was. That’s on Twitter, @ABetterABK. Also, I’m one of the organizers for GWA, which is the Game Workers Alliance, under a smaller branch of ABK, which is Raven Software. The quality assurance workers there unionized actually, which is pretty great, and are still trying to get the employer to the bargaining table, but not for lack of trying. Yeah. That’s a little bit about my professional background.
My organizer background really started when I was thrown into a leadership position of organizing ABK under the lawsuit that happened where the state of California sued Activision Blizzard King for widespread sexual harassment, discrimination, which is a thing in that is just plaguing the industry. I mean, I’m sure you saw that Riot Games had a very similar… they actually just recently settled. So it’s still ongoing, the lawsuit. Frankly, the organizing effort is still ongoing. There’s definitely a huge push to make ethical video games.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today brought to you in partnership with In These Times Magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you’re hungry for more worker and labor-focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes, and definitely go check out all the other great shows in our network. Please support the work that we’re doing here at Working People so we can keep growing and keep bringing y’all important conversations every week. You can support us by leaving positive reviews of the show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. You can share these episodes on your social media and share them with your coworkers, your friends, and family members.
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My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and I am so incredibly grateful to our incredible guests for joining me today on our annual Pride-themed episode of Working People. Of course, the struggles that we are going to be talking about today do not just exist for one month out of the year. The fight for the rights of our LGBTQ+ co-workers, and neighbors, and family members is never-ending and non-negotiable, and we need to be there for one another every day of the year. That sadly is getting truer and truer with every passing day because… We hosted this episode last year with… We had a conversation with the incredible Gabbi Pierce as well as Martha Grevatt, retired UAW member. Even then, we were talking about how dark things were getting in the country.
If you’re listening to this, I imagine it is no surprise to you that things have only continued to get darker, and scarier, and more violent, and more intense. So our fight, the fight to stand up for and stand up with our LGBTQ fellow workers and our neighbors, we really need to do everything that we possibly can to stop and fight back against the increasingly fascistic attacks from the far-right. I mean, as we speak here in late June of 2023, we are seeing mobs of angry and violent far-right protestors showing up outside of school boards, showing up outside of schools themselves, and even getting in brawls with people just trying to enjoy the month of Pride or trying to celebrate LGBTQ history, and they’re being attacked for it. That’s not even mentioning the just relentless onslaught of anti-LGBTQ, especially anti-trans legislation that is coming through state houses across the country. That’s not even mentioning the high octane, and vicious and hateful rhetoric coming from elected officials all the way up to basically every candidate running for president in the Republican field. Right?
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, this is becoming like… In many ways, it already has become the anti-LGBTQ vitriol, the hatred, the genocidal violence that we’re seeing people express around the country. This is really becoming the tip of the spear of a large, dangerous, deadly fascist force in this country. If you are a cis/straight person thinking that this is all just going to fade away and pass us by, that it’s a fad, or what have you, whatever justification you’re using to keep your mouth shut and stay on the sidelines while our neighbors and coworkers are being attacked, I implore you to reconsider because this far-right contingent, they are not going to stop what they’re doing unless they are stopped, and we need to be the ones to do that.
So, today, as with our episode last year, as we will continue to do in future seasons, we want to bring together some more incredible folks onto the show to have the kind of conversation that we do best here on the show, to bring together our fellow workers across industries, across the US to talk about their lives, their work, their experience, to talk about what we as a labor movement are doing or should be doing and can be doing better to stand up for LGBTQ rights for working people. So what is the state of that fight within the labor movement itself? Also, we want to and need to talk about what role the labor movement needs to be playing in the larger fight against these fascist attacks and the larger fight for LGBTQ+ liberation.
So that is what we’re here to discuss on today’s episode, and as I said, I’m incredibly grateful to be able to have this conversation with our amazing guests, the great Fae Weichsel and Jessica Gonzalez. Now, I want to just give a little note to folks listening to this that Fae and Jessica are incredibly busy, and there’s a lot going on in the country right now, so we weren’t able to get everyone on the same call to have a back and forth panel discussion. So when you hear this episode, it’s going to sound like we’re all in the same call, but actually, we are going to be recording separately, but I’m going to be asking all of our incredible guests the same questions so it will fit together nicely in a full episode, but I just wanted to be upfront about that.
Before I toss things over to our guests, again, I want to make sure that everyone listening to this really understands the stakes of what we’re talking about here. I wanted to also point out something that really caught my eye earlier this month. I’m sure a lot of you saw it as well, but the Human Rights Campaign for the first time in its history announced a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. I wanted to read just a little snippet from the Human Rights Campaign’s president, Kelley Robinson, where she wrote about why the HRC declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans in 2023.
So Kelly writes, and we’ll link to this in the show notes, “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. For the first time in HRC’s nearly half-century history, we’re declaring a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States. During this legislative session, there have been over 525 state bills introduced that attack the LGBTQ+ community, and over 220 of those target the transgender community. As of press time, more than 70 of those have become law. These laws are fueled by an anti-LGBTQ+ Republican establishment and coordinated, well-funded extremist groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Policy Alliance, insisting on trying to control our families and our lives.”
“Just look at what’s playing out in Texas, in Tennessee, in Florida. These states are banning educators from talking about LGBTQ+ issues and teaching Black history, and are banning gender-affirming care and abortion care. These same states do nothing to ensure the freedom of children to be safe from gun violence and do nothing to protect the freedom of democracy when Black and trans voices are silenced in state legislatures, or look at Governor Ron DeSantis who has weaponized his position as a lawmaker to target LGBTQ+ families, Black and Brown Floridians, immigrants, and private businesses. Even with the majority of Floridians forcefully opposing his anti-LGBTQ+ laws and despite surging support for LGBTQ+ families nationally, DeSantis has been crisscrossing the country to attack our community. This report details the political attacks like those he’s waged on our community that have transpired in state houses across the country.”
So, again, we will link to that report from the Human Rights Campaign along with many other resources for y’all to get up to speed on the state of the attacks against our LGBTQ siblings, but I really wanted to make sure that I read that in the introduction so that… Again, we don’t want to just spend Pride month talking about how awful everything is, but we need to understand where we are as a country and where these horrific attacks are in order to better know what we can do to fight them.
So, without further ado, I want to shut up on my end and turn things over to our amazing panelists. We won’t be able to do the full sweeping backstory conversation that we like to have with our guests here on the show where I get to sit down and chat to workers and talk to them about their lives and their winding paths to being the people that they are, doing the kind of work that they do, but I was hoping my great panelists would humor me a little bit. We could start by doing maybe a shortened version of that, and if we could go around the table and have y’all, yeah, just introduce yourself a bit more to the Working People listeners, and tell us a bit about your backstory, how you came to do the kind of work that you do now, what that work entails, and what your experience as an LGBTQ+ worker in the American workforce in the 21st century has been like. The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. So, Fae, why don’t we start with you?
Fae Weichsel: Sure. Like I said before, I work as a first AC, also known as a focus puller, and I did go to school for filmmaking. I went to the University of the Arts. From there, then I eventually got a job at a camera rental house in New York City. From there, then I took the Union Test, joined Local 600, and I started my career. Then, I, over the years, worked my way up through being a camera PA to then being a loader, then being second AC into now first AC. But in terms of the union activism that I do and the union organizing, that just came out of me. One, I came from a union household. My mother is a public school teacher, and my father is a teamster mechanic. So unions were something that like… They weren’t a thing that we would talk around the table, but it was just always in the background.
It’s pretty funny. I didn’t actually realize I came from a union household until I went to… IATSE ran this leadership conference once, and they were like, “Raise your hand if you come from a union household. Did your parents ever be in a union?” and all that sort of stuff. I was politically active during the Bush years in high school, all the things that people used, the Iraq War protests, walkouts, various demonstrations and stuff that were going on at the time, Days of Silence in terms of queer activism and stuff. Yeah. It was just one thing after the other.
I wanted to get active in my union, so I started going to meetings, and then I heard about Young Workers being a thing, and I wanted to join the one at my union. We didn’t have one, so I made it, and you just… One foot after the other, one day at a time, and then before you know it, you’ve been doing union activism for over seven years now. One of the things that I did actually fairly early in my union activism in 2016, I had my union march for the first time officially in Pride, the Pride March in New York City. What is noticeable is that it was the first IATSE local that had ever done so. So I think it’s interesting to look at how far we’ve come as a child of the ’90s, not knowing exactly what I was, queer, trans, at the time, but knowing I was different, and it’s surprising seeing how much of the rhetoric from the ’90s that conservatives used to you against gay people has just been swapped with trans or just repeated verbatim.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, and so I have so many questions, but I know we got to get to Jessica. But Fae, before we move on, I just wanted to hop back in and ask. For those of us who have literally no clue what that kind of work looks like, I was wondering if you could just say a little more about what operating that kind of equipment on film sets, what does that look like in your world on a week-to-week basis?
Fae Weichsel: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, as a first AC, you’re assigned to a camera, and generally, they go A, B, C camera down the line. Generally, most shows only have an A and B camera full-time. Some shows have three cameras, but you’re assigned to that camera. That’s your camera. As the focus puller, you’re in charge of making sure that you keep the camera in working order, if anything needs to get replaced, but also, you’re the one in charge of making sure that the lens is in focus.
We use various wireless systems, and sometimes you just grab the lens with your hand depending on what’s going on, but we keep the image sharp. So we have to track and work with the camera operator, but also with the talent, whether it is a human actor or actress, or maybe a dog, or some inanimate object, tabletop or product stuff. But with all those things moving on and with various filters and the lenses, we keep the image in focus or sometimes not in focus for creative or artistic purposes.
Jessica Gonzalez: I have always been a gamer. I remember getting my first console, which was a Nintendo 64, one Christmas. I mean, I grew up as a middle child in a divorced home, so video games were my babysitter for a while like I would just sit on my console. I remember used to jiggle the N64 cartridge for Super Mario 64, and so it would make Mario look funny, and he would melt into the ground. I thought it was the funniest thing ever. So I always tried to break video games, and that was just a theme that I had. I always tried to think outside of the box, see if I could do any kind of exploits.
Gaming was a really community sense for me because when I would go to school, I would just talk to my friends, and we’d all just be talking about gaming. It was just a huge cultural thing for us growing up, and it connected me to people. So I really always loved gaming, and then I remember, I actually went to school for pharmacy technician before I got into game development and realized that I had gone to school for pharmacy to just make minimum wage. It was really unfortunate because I did so much work leading up to that, right? Then, I had a friend who was working at Activision at the time, working on Call of Duty: Black Ops III in pre-alpha. So they invited me over to their El Segundo office to basically say, “How passionate are you about video games?” “I’m very passionate about video games.” “How do you feel about breaking video games?” “That sounds wonderful to me.” So I went into a three-day training for that where they teach you the technical terms of what specific bugs are called, and how to point them out and things like that, and then how to write a really detailed good bug for a game.
So, after that, they have… It’s like a trial period, that three-day period, and then at the end, you see if they’ll put you on the floor. So I made it on the floor, and I remember I actually was assigned a night shift. People were working on Call of Duty: Black Ops III all around the clock. It was insane because we were doing the old gen, which is Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the time, and then next gen, which was the newer consoles. So it was interesting. We were broken up into a bunch of teams. I remember it was just insane. At one point, we were doing 14-hour shifts to try to get the crunch. We needed to make our submission. We had people that were already pre-ordering, so it’s like we’re very pushed to that release date.
I remember, when I joined, I was like, “Ooh, the pay is low.” Right? They actually marketed it to me where it’s like, “Yeah, it’s low starting, but you’re going to make so much in overtime that this hourly rate doesn’t even matter.” I’m like, “Okay. That’s interesting.” At the time, I was like, “Okay. Cool. I get to just game all night and find bugs, and make money.” But it actually was really hard. I just remember the politics of it. Everyone was really tired. Everyone wanted to make it to the next round before layoffs, so there was a lot of infighting. There was a lot of rat race culture where people were stealing bugs from each other and undercutting people, or saying if they’re a minute or two longer on their breaks and things, or if they’re using their phone. It was a really weird environment.
On the flip side of that, I actually made some lifelong connections working there just because… I think a lot of industries can relate to where it’s almost like a trauma bond you have with your coworker. You’re both working through crappy conditions, and you’re just trying to get up and get ahead. I’ve met some lifelong friends in the industry doing that as well, so it’s like this double-sided coin of you get to work where you love, you get to work on really exciting projects, but definitely, your passion is exploited in that like, “Okay. You’re passionate. You want to work at video games. Well, this is what it takes,” and then you just give yourself up for a few years, and then you burn out. I’ve seen that happen so many times in the industry where people just leave.
A lot of people leave after the first project that they ship just because they’re so burned out, and it’s just grueling, the overtime, the crunch culture. Crunch is so normalized in video games. I feel like lately, we’re getting away from it, but it was so normalized for a while that crunch was just a part of games. You just had to do it to get the game out on time. It’s weird to think about because it’s a video game. It’s not like we’re making software that’s saving lives. I mean, in a way, we are. In a way, we are because, like I said, with the community, you have that sense of belonging to a community that you participate in. You like the games and stuff like that, so you really do give yourself to these projects, and it’s almost like depending on where you are in the company, it’s definitely not giving back to you, unless you really, really fight for it, and there’s a lot of people fighting for it at the same time, so.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. Yeah. I mean, just the stories I’ve heard about crunch are just like… I don’t know how you guys survived that shit, but it does seem really intense. Well, and I wanted to just ask before we move on if you could talk a little bit about how that translated to game workers organizing and you being involved in that.
Jessica Gonzalez: Yeah. That’s a great question. So, it’s interesting, the position that I was in when the state of California sued Activision Blizzard for widespread harassment and discrimination because when the news broke, Activision tried to paint it off as a Blizzard native issue, that it was only Blizzard that it was happening at. It doesn’t happen at Activision, it doesn’t happen anywhere else, and we fixed the problem. Me, I was working at Blizzard at the time. I had worked at Activision before, and definitely, that wasn’t my experience. I knew that this was something that’s just an industry problem. It’s not an Activision problem. It’s not a Blizzard problem. It’s an everywhere problem, right?
So I was like, “That’s not right. That literally feels like you’re lying to us. We need to take accountability.” The big push and the reason why I joined the labor movement in games is because I noticed none of these companies were taking accountability for the kinds of cultures that they create and foster, and they tried to write it off, and that was a problem. Right? It wasn’t right. The reason I felt so empowered to join was because I was tired of the facade of like, “Well, you work in games, you have to enjoy yourself. You work in games, you should be lucky to be here. There’s five people that would take your place if you leave right now,” type of environment, and I wanted to make it better for the next generation of people because you should be okay to work on a project you’re passionate about and not work yourself into an early grave by hurting yourself or doing these things that are just so mentally taxing, physical exhaustion. It really does take a toll on people. It really does.
I know a lot of people who have sustained lifelong repercussions of just those grueling hours and just lack of sleep, pushing themselves way too hard, people sleeping under their desks or in their cars during breaks. It was just an actually wild concept to think about. It’s like, “We’re making video games. It’s not health software. It’s something that’s supposed to be enjoyable, so why are we squeezing all of that joy and passion out of people who genuinely care about the project…” There was no return in that. It never showed anything positive, just giving that much of yourself to the employer for them to then say, “Okay. Thank you. The project is shipped, and we’re going to lay you off now.” It just does not feel right. It’s like this carrot on a stick dangling. “You want to work in games? Well, you’re going to have to work.” I definitely, going in, didn’t anticipate it to be as intense as it was, but I definitely… Yeah. It’s just interesting, the things that people accept because they want to work in a place that they’re passionate about.
Maximillian Alvarez: As the great Sarah Jaffe would say, “Work does not love you back.” Right?
Jessica Gonzalez: Yeah. Definitely.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. No. Thank you so much for that. That was really enlightening and just heartbreaking, frankly.
Again, I’m just so, so grateful for the opportunity to get to chat to all of you. As listeners can hear, Fae and Jessica have such a tremendous wealth of experience working in different industries, and I just got so many questions that I want to ask y’all. I would say, since we can’t necessarily get into all of that here, I wanted to let listeners know that in the show notes for this episode, we’re going to link to some other related interviews that we’ve done either here at Working People or that I’ve done at The Real News Network. If you want to learn more about the kind of work and organizing that Fae and Jessica do, we’re going to link to a great interview that I got to do including Fae with them and other IATSE members during what was then a… We were quickly approaching a potential IATSE strike. It was averted in the 11th hour, but Fae and their coworkers talked more extensively in that episode about all the crazy work that goes on behind the scenes to make the film industry happen, and so I would highly recommend that folks check that interview out as well.
I mean, Jessica, I’ve been wanting to get Jessica on the show for a long time, and we’re going to link to some reporting on the organizing campaign that Jessica was involved in. We’ll also link to a recent interview that I did with James Russworm, who is the lead worker organizer for Canada’s first video game worker union that formed in Edmonton and affiliated with the UFCW last year. So we’ll link to all those in the show notes. Definitely go check them out, but as I said at the beginning of this episode, we want to devote a good chunk of time here to talk about, first, where the state of the fight for LGBTQ rights is within the labor movement itself. Right? So how far has the movement come on this issue? Right?
We talked last year with Martha Grevatt and Gabbi Pierce about how the labor movement has definitely not been the best on fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in the past. That’s not to say that every union, every local acted as poorly or ignored these issues as much as others, but you can go back and hear Martha describing how much of a slog it was just to get just basic things like benefits for domestic partners, right? Just even putting that on the radar, organized labor, was such a slog, let alone fighting against discrimination on the job, so on and so forth. So we know that we’ve come a long way from there, but we still have a long way to go.
So before we move on to talk about what role the labor movement is or needs to be playing in the larger fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, I want to go back around the panel and ask if y’all could just say a bit more about, from your vantage point and even from your own experience, how is the movement doing with its support for LGBTQ+ workers? What are the common issues and experiences that LGBTQ+ workers in the United States still have to deal with in the year of our Lord 2023 that maybe their fellow workers who are straight and cis don’t think about or don’t see? I was wondering if we could just talk about that first, looking inwards and talking about our own experiences on the job and within the movement. So, Fae, I’m going to toss it back to you to start us off.
Fae Weichsel: Yeah. It obviously, I think, depends obviously on each union or trade affiliation and how that works. For example, a lot of the health plans now do cover various aspects of transgender care, but they also don’t cover various other aspects. I think that is a very concrete and actionable thing. I think about these things because I’m on the Local 600, and health and welfare committee, and I think it’s really important. When we’re talking about these issues, it is super important to not only be vocally supportive. But when we’re talking about unions, we’re talking about institutions, and institutions… Something I say at union meetings fairly often, it’s starting to become a mantra of mine, is $5,000 in a union’s coffer doesn’t actually do that much material good to the union, but that $5,000 spent on a member could change that member’s life.
I’m specifically thinking of medical debt and things like that. I think that’s really where unions can operate because something that we’ve started to see, and I was afraid of this happening, perfect example, is when Starbucks switched unionizing. Part of the reason that a lot of transgender people went to Starbucks to work there was because they did have a good health plan that did cover a lot of transgender care that for a lot of people might have been the only option that they could get their job that would cover it. Then, once people started unionizing, Starbucks threatened to take that away, and that’s where unions can really come in and not allow employers to use healthcare as a very powerful bludgeoning tool to curb workers’ rights and things like that.
Jessica Gonzalez: I think the movement now, it’s definitely built up a lot of momentum over the years with… I feel like there’s a lot of parallels happening. So the games industry is having its own revolutionary awakening in the laborer space because that really wasn’t thought of before, and then you see actors, and writers, and everyone at the same time are all feeling this critical mass of something needs to be done, right? You have the UPS workers about to strike, Teamsters. There’s so many areas of just labor in general that are reaching critical mass, I feel like. The spot we’re in now, it’s interesting because at the same time, we’re also having this civil rights movement because we had the Black Lives Matter protests happened, and it was so beautiful to see people… true allyship, people using their privilege and their space in society to protect the people who are marginalized behind them. That was so wonderful to see, and you’re seeing more of that now.
I think where we are with the LGBT movement and labor, I think we need to see more of that allyship and the connection there because, to me, allyship is using your privilege to lift others that are marginalized, and don’t have the same equity, and don’t have that voice that you have. They’re not going to listen to someone who they think is just complaining, or they think is mentally ill, or this, or that. We need allyship more than ever, and one of the big initiatives that I pushed at ABK was allyship, and it was… because a lot of the time, the burden is on the marginalized to teach the people who are privileged what it’s like to be marginalized, and what that means, and where our hurt and pain comes from.
Then, you have to look at it with that lens of like, “These people are tired. These people are broken. They’re constantly villainized in the media,” and it’s getting to another critical mass point where it’s like they’re being called horrible names. They’re being literally scapegoated in the media as just the worst thing imaginable, and all of my friends and people that I know are LGBT are the kindest, strongest, smartest, frankly, people that I even know, and it’s just really sad to see them being targeted in this way that it almost feels like an unfair finger-pointing of, “You’re what’s wrong with society,” when, really, all they want to do is push acceptance, and love, and, “You are who you are. Be who you are, and that’s okay.” To even argue that that’s something that’s wrong or morally incorrect is just unfathomable to me.
So allyship is a huge thing I push for in any movement. Yes, realize that you do come from a place of privilege if you are privileged, and then use that privilege to help others who aren’t privileged because it’s the only way we’re going to build equity here. That’s a huge part of the labor movement as well. As you know, the labor movement, we all operate in solidarity where you and I don’t necessarily want the same things, but we can both say that both of these are important, and we should strive for better. We shouldn’t just accept the status quo because it’s not equitable. It’s not going to keep everyone happy. It’s not going to protect everybody, essentially.
So the way solidarity is, is you can recognize that we’re both two different people, but also, at the end of the day, we’re both workers. We both want safe working conditions, and then we can apply this to the larger civil rights movement of, “Here’s this group that’s routinely disenfranchised, routinely bullied and scapegoated.” Then, just use our power to lift those people up because you might not be LGBT, but you know someone who is, and they’re actively being targeted right now for wrong reasons. I don’t know if it’s scapegoating, I don’t know if it’s religious reasons, but at any rate, we need to protect our most marginalized communities because if they are targeted and hurt, an injury to one is an injury to all. Who’s to say they’re not going to do it to you next or any other group?
They’re just the easiest group to swing at right now because there’s a lot of religious bias and other biases. Frankly, people have a lot of unconscious bias that they walk around with and don’t even realize it sometimes. Part of allyship is checking that unconscious bias and being actively proactive that you are wired a specific way, and then learning what does it mean to be marginalized in this industry and in other industries. Like Starbucks, right now, they are striking over an unfair labor practice where they’re forced to remove Pride flags and things from their stores, and that’s huge. They’re using their power, their bargaining power collectively to say this is wrong, and the company should make a stance on this. That’s what’s important because it’s really easy to be passive and just say, “Yes, we care about our LGBT employees,” but then showing up and saying like, “This is not okay,” and doing action is where you’re going to really see that push go even further.
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh, yeah. I know. I’m really glad you mentioned the Starbucks workers because I think that’s a huge part of this story. I mean, Starbucks itself as a company has profited handsomely over the years by pretending that it is this progressive, inclusive brand.
Jessica Gonzalez: Very much so.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yet, it is the same company that is union-busting, scorched earth with a workforce that has a lot of queer and trans workers in it, many of whom depend on the healthcare benefits that Starbucks provides for gender-affirming care, so on and so forth. I think that you’re right, Jessica. That’s a really, really important convergence of the civil rights and labor side of things, and showing how powerful they can be together, and why we all need to be supportive of that and stand in solidarity with them.
Before we get to the final turn here, I wanted to just follow up on something with you, Jessica, if I could because… and I feel like this is a whole other podcast conversation, but a lot of that fascist far-right bullshit that we are seeing today that you and Fae described, the vicious, hateful, violent attacks against queer and trans people in this country, scapegoating them as the source of all of society’s ills, using these really hateful terms like “groomer” to try to turn the public against them. It’s really, really disgusting, but also, a lot of that runs through your industry, a lot of that… Not all of it, but a lot of the far-right weirdness that has culminated in the radical far-right movements we’re seeing today. A lot of them have connections to Gamergate, to the intense sexism in the video game industry from the player side as well as the industry side. So I wanted to just ask if you could talk a little bit about that, about how queer and trans workers in this space or even gamers in this space, how that, I guess, is connected to the conditions that you work and organize under in this industry.
Jessica Gonzalez: No, that’s a good point. Yeah. It’s interesting because I feel like for a long time, we just collectively ignored a lot of the toxicity in the gaming space. I mean, I’m a woman in games. I pretty much went in knowing that it was a male-dominated field and that I was going to have to pretty much grind my way to the top if I wanted to get anywhere. I consider myself very stubborn in that I don’t want to leave the industry because I want to leave it in a better spot than before I found it, and there’s definitely a boys’ club. It’s why you saw the lawsuit at Riot and why you saw the lawsuit at Blizzard, and it’s because there’s this culture that is just allowed to continue. People make jokes, and then nobody calls it out.
It’s like how the BLM movement framed it as. It’s not enough to not be racist. You have to be effectively anti-racist. I think we need to get to that space in games where it’s like it’s okay to be non-misogynistic, but you need to be actively calling out bad behaviors in your space because then, that leads to a cultural thing of setting the precedent that this is accepted or tolerated here and this is okay. I feel like a lot of the companies are very passive. With games, especially, if you notice, I’m sure you’re on Twitter, there are just constant harassment campaigns against developers and especially LGBT developers. Gamers will actively go out of their way to try and harm developers because they don’t like a video game, because some change happened that the developer didn’t even have anything to do with, but because they’re a developer, they get the target of that rage.
Even in something like a Call of Duty lobby, you hear like, “Oh, you wouldn’t last two minutes in a Call of Duty lobby.” It’s because we allow bad behaviors. We allow people to be abusive, and we don’t actively condemn those things because why? Well, at the end of the day, the bottom line is what’s more important to these companies. The bottom line, the end user. We want everyone to play our games. Okay, but you also have to realize that there are groups that are horribly treated in the industry and need that. They need to know that people are going to at least be aware of the injustices that are happening and try to work against that. Right?
That’s why we did a huge push at ABK for our leadership to say something and to say that we believe victims when they come forward and tell us about abuse. Not to say that that doesn’t happen here because then you’re effectively discrediting anyone who’s come forward, and there’s a lawsuit for a reason. There’s enough evidence collected to go forward for a reason. You need to actively say, “Yes, this is wrong, and we are working to correct that,” versus, “It doesn’t happen here.” So then, it’s like this thing of discrediting the victim is always something you hear like Gamergate, everything. When stuff comes out, they go to character assassination of the person who reported the issue versus like, “Okay. Let’s look at the bigger picture of what this problem is and why it keeps manifesting in our spaces.” It’s because we’re actively not anti-misogynistic or anti-prejudice.
It’s just hard. It’s hard because when companies… I think companies are afraid to make that precedent because it’s an admission of guilt, of complacency. We’ve been complacent for so long that I feel like if they were to come out now, people would just then make a mockery of it and say like, “Oh, well, where was this years ago?” I think we need to just collectively agree that it’s okay to feel two things at the same time. We can like a game and hate its community or hate the way that they treat developers and use that solidarity like class solidarity. I feel like we could all pretty much… You’re not a game developer. There’s people that aren’t game developers. Well, at the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to get by, make a living, and work, and be protected while we’re working. I feel like people can resonate with that wherever they work, right?
I think this problem is a larger symptom of a cultural issue where we are not actively calling out injustices as much as we should be or trying to mitigate those things. I think we’re just so passive in that space. Like in gaming, in general, we don’t care. We just want to play video games. When the ABK stuff started, a lot of people in my comments were actually like, “I don’t care. Where’s the new Call of Duty map?” It’s like, “Okay. I get it. I also love Call of Duty, and love the maps, and love working on the game, but let me give you a real hard reality check: If the developers that are creating your video games are literally working themselves to death, you’re not going to get a good video game. You want the people that are passionately in love with creating these games to be treated ethically if you want a game that is good and can be ethically consumed.”
That’s what a lot of the movement is doing to show. I feel like we’ve shown a lot of gamers and people that are in the community that kind of treatment that’s been going on in the industry since the Riot lawsuit, since the Blizzard lawsuit. I feel like now it’s more shown, but back then, it was like, “Oh, we don’t know how they make video games.” It’s this huge mystery. Now, we’re showing it, and hopefully… All I can say is we’re already seeing a really huge labor push in games, and I think it’s just going to keep continuing to grow. As long as we’re collectively calling out bad labor practices and continuing on, it’s just going to get better from here on out, so.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. Well, again, thank you so much for laying all of that out. I want to, with the time we have remaining, zoom out a bit and take the bird’s-eye view here because as I did my best to lay out in the introduction to this episode and as folks listening to this surely know themselves as you know all too well, we are in a very, very dark period in this country’s history. It’s sad. It’s infuriating. It’s terrifying. It’s all of these things at once. Right?
I have admitted many times on this show that I grew up very conservative and believed a lot of the conservative rhetoric when I was growing up in the ’90s and early aughts. Thankfully, I made my long ideological journey to seeing the world the way that I see it now by talking to folks like yourselves over and over again, by deprogramming a lot of that bigoted hate and just all of this… Yeah, just all this crap, all this ideological junk that is stuffed into our heads from the time that we’re kids. We’re taught to see difference as a bad thing and to judge people for not looking like or acting like us, and to just respond with, at best callousness and at worst, just pure cruelty towards our fellow human beings, even people within our own family. The ways that people turn that hatred outward and push it onto others. They excommunicate members of their own family for not being the person that the parents thought that they “were.”
People can get fired in this country in most states for no cause at all, right? So, of course, if people are gay, or trans, or any number of things, you can’t legally be discriminated against based on your identity, but as we know, as we document all the time on this show, bosses are going to find any excuse that they want to justify firing people or retaliating against people. So, of course, that shit happens all the time in the American workplace, and we should not kid ourselves and pretend that it doesn’t. Again, I just really want us to take stock of where we are right now in this country, and it’s not staying in this country. Right?
I think the other thing to note is that the right-wing politics that we’re seeing here… and this is what I meant by mentioning that I grew up conservative is I’m just seeing so much of the same bullshit that I was hearing in the ’90s, all the manufactured panic over the children. “We’ve got to save the children, and we’ve got to,” I don’t know, “eliminate this sector of society to save the children. We can’t let gay people near our children. We can’t let trans people near our children. We can’t let Drag Story Hour exist because heaven forbid, a child sees a person in drag.” All the while, our kids are getting slaughtered by assault rifles in their own schools. I mean, the climate is going to be uninhabitable for many of them by the time they reach adulthood depending on where in the world that they live. None of that is a fucking concern, right? But heaven forbid, our precious children learn about the fact that there are more than just one type of person out there in the world.
Anyway, I want to focus on that. I want to talk about where we are right now, why this is happening, this fascistic, genocidal attack to either push LGBTQ+ people back into the closet or to push them out of existence, and what the labor movement needs to be doing and what all of us need to be doing to fight against that. So I want to just, one more time, go around the table to our panelists. Please take this in whatever direction you want. Yeah. Can we talk about what role the movement needs to be playing in the larger fight for LGBTQ+ liberation? What can people listening to this, and our co-workers, and our neighbors do to be part of that fight, and why do we need to be part of that fight?
Fae Weichsel: Yeah. I was thinking about what you were saying with how things people used to say in the ’90s, and it is exactly like what you said, I’m an Eagle Scout. I heard all of those things. It’s wild what people will say around you when they don’t know what you are. I remember that stuff, but it’s wild to see how much it’s been repackaged and turned just with gay swap for trans or sometimes not even, like you were saying, verbatim, but I think part of the reasons that it is so drastic is that conservatives did see what happened in the ’90s and the aughts with gay rights, and they just lost, and they lost hard.
So I think part of why it’s so vile, and prominent, and so full of hate this time around, is that if they don’t get rid of us, either kill us, put us back in the closet, remove us from public life, they’re going to lose, and they’re going to lose soon, which is why so much of this stuff is so drastic, but also, it’s so rushed. Our Kansas trans healthcare ban got struck down federally because it was so broad. It was obviously unconstitutional. I think that’s the thing that I am personally looking at is that this is a hard fight, and we are not… I’m not someone that believes history will always move in the progress. No. History moves in terms of who fights. That’s how it moves. It is not going to necessarily be progress, unless we make that be the future that happens.
With that, I think the things that not only can unions do institutionally because I think in a lot of ways, outside of queer organizations, unions are one of the few institutions that does have a vested interest in supporting their members, and every union… I don’t know a union that unless it’s one person who happens to be straight, and that’s not a union, that’s one person, doesn’t have queer membership of some variety. What’s so important, and this is so key to why conservatives lost to the gay rights fight, was people started coming out and knowing other queer people. It wasn’t just that, “Oh, I have a gay best friend,” or that cliche line, but what it was, was in conversations where that person who was out wasn’t it, there would be straight people who would say something homophobic, and a straight friend would go, “Hey, cut that out.” That’s what we need to do because there’s not enough trans people to be in every single conversation. There’s not enough queer people even to be in every single conversation. What we need is people to just go, “Hey, cut that out,” and that will do so much in my personal opinion.
Jessica Gonzalez: I mean, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of rise of fascist policies in the United States. I feel like with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and then the continuous targeting of LGBT people, it’s just getting worse and worse. For the first time ever, there was an alert for safety reasons of LGBT people in the United States which… I mean, I always thought the United States was more progressive in that space, and it’s just really horrible to see that. It almost feels like a grift. The right will attach themselves to anything that they can use to put on a huge charade of, “Oh my God, look at all this horrible stuff that’s going on that’s not even real,” but they can drum up enough support to radicalize, and mobilize people.
That’s all the right is doing right now, I feel, is just immobilizing people, aligning them, misaligning them around this thing that’s not even real, that doesn’t exist. The thing that they chose to affix themselves to at first was drag shows, and they are pushing propaganda and things that aren’t even real and true, but because they use…it’s almost like a hook. They use a hook saying like, “LGBT people are doing this, and this is why you should care about it.” It’s horrible, and any rational person being told that this is what’s happening would think, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening. Of course, I’m going to…” It then radicalizes them to join the movement, right?
That’s the problem, is that it’s misinformed. It’s this horrible, overdramatic, overplayed thing that’s not even real about LGBT people that they’re just trying to prey on people and turn people a specific way when really, it is all that that movement is about is saying it’s okay to be who you are. I think what it is, is there is a critical mass in labor and there’s a critical mass in civil rights right now where people are continually being hurt, continually being scapegoated, continually being pushed to the side, and rights are taken away from them. Then, those people react, and then the right says, “Look at these people reacting. Look at how bad they’re being.” It’s a reactive abuse situation. It’s like you’re going to continue to take the abuse, and the abuse, and the abuse. Once you stand up against the abuse, then they’re saying you’re being abusive.
It’s really sad to see, but also, at the same time, it’s good that we’re calling it out because I feel like for a while, it just felt like, “Oh, LGBT people are accepted, and we have Pride Month, and it’s fine.” It really isn’t fine. We definitely have Pride Month, and I’ve been in the Gay-Straight Alliance since high school. A big part of my civil rights activism is pushing for more ethical treatment of LGBT youth especially, and to see them targeted in this way is just so sad. It’s not something I’ve seen in my years of activism in this space.
My fear is that people are just going to see what’s happening and say, “They’ve got it. It’s fine. They’ve dealt with this kind of stuff for years,” but they aren’t seeing the seriousness of the accusations that are being pushed and the narrative that’s being pushed. It’s weird. It almost feels like, “What’s the bigger picture? Why are they pushing so hard for these things?” Right? Like Roe v. Wade, for example. Criminalizing abortion, criminalizing homosexuality. It’s almost as if they want to force the status quo so badly, they need more poor workers or more broken homes, and people having children that they have no business having, and things like that so that they can keep the status quo. It almost feels like they’re doing any extreme measures possible to keep the status quo, and that’s why you’re seeing these things. Now, it’s reaching a critical mass, and we need the people to just unify, come together, and use their allyship.
Allyship. What the labor movement can do right now is recognize your privilege. Use your allyship to help the people that are not privileged, to help the people that are regularly attacked in the community. That’s what true allyship is, and I feel like when we get to that collective allyship. Solidarity is a great thing in the labor movement, in the industry. Let’s move that into allyship and really, really nurture that solidarity into something that’s proactively making those actions to help those that are in lower places than we are, and don’t have the means to protect themselves, and are getting their civil rights taken away, frankly, because it’s like… Now, women’s autonomy is removed. It’s weird to think that when I was born, I had more rights than I do now.
Now, abortion is illegal, and they’re trying to criminalize homosexuality and transgenderism. It’s just really sad to see, and I wish that… I don’t know. I wish that we were more accepting, and I always felt like, in the United States, we’re pretty progressive, but the last few years, it feels almost like a regression in that space. I think as long as we’re all collectively noticing and putting actions against it, then we’re going to fight it, but it’s the scariness of the fascism, and the right-wing’s boogeyman, and how easy it is to radicalize people. That makes it really difficult. But as long as we’re calling out the grift and we’re calling out people that are doing these things to incite hatred, and to enforce the status quo, and keep people below where they are, we’ll be okay and in a good spot to fight against it, but it is definitely something that we have to work on.
Maximillian Alvarez: The point you made about having more rights when you were born than we do now, that was real.
Jessica Gonzalez: Yeah. Yeah. It’s weird to be…
Maximillian Alvarez: That sent a chill down my spine.
Jessica Gonzalez: Yeah. It’s weird to think my mother had more rights as a woman that could have an abortion at her age, right? It’s weird to think about that. In 2023, this is stuff we’re worrying about, right? This is already something that was decided by the Supreme Court as a civil right, and now it’s reversed. Yeah. It’s really weird, the climate that we’re in now. I keep saying critical mass, and it really does feel like we’re there. I guess what happens after that? A revolution maybe. I don’t know.
Maximillian Alvarez: Fingers crossed.
Jessica Gonzalez: Yeah. Right? It’s just to that point. I took a sociology class in college, and I specifically remember my professor saying, “We are in a post-industrialized society. We’ve all just been going with the status quo for so long, and we really need a revolution for workers’ rights to not regress to where they were before.” It’s weird to think about because people literally fought and died for 40-hour work weeks, for non-child labor, and then you’re seeing these stories come out about child labor, like children are working in factories, and, “Oh my gosh, it’s the grind set. I work 80-hours a week,” and things like that. It’s like, “Where did we get to this spot?”
We know people bled, and then lost so much to even give us these protections, like the OSHA and everything. It’s all written in blood. Right? All of those protections, and then how easily it is to just walk that back by a culture of a grind set, and it’s weird to think about because I have nothing in common with a billionaire, but they’re so… In society, they’re looked at as the pinnacle of the human experience like, “Oh, wow, I could be a billionaire,” but there’s literally no chance of that happening. I think people will believe that because it can happen, it’s a good thing, and it’s okay if a small percentage of the world has this amount of wealth because it could be me one day. But really, that’s not going to happen.
Maximillian Alvarez: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yeah. I think there’s like… and I don’t know. Maybe there’s an argument to be made there about people telling us that we’re being unrealistic about wanting to save the planet and humanity from climate chaos or transition away from capitalism, and people are like, “Oh, that will never happen.” It’s like, “Well, you fucking believe you’re going to be a billionaire. That’s more magical thinking than this is.” So maybe we’re actually closer to where we need to be than we think.
Jessica Gonzalez: Exactly. It’s so weird, too. Something else I wanted to mention is when we were pushing our ABK stuff. So Activision Blizzard King has offices all over the United States and even global, right? So we’re in our work communication tool, Slack. We have everyone across ABK in Slack. I remember we were pushing for ethical treatment of people in video games like, “Why is crunch culture so bad?” Our allies in other countries were actually amazed at the sentiment that was being expressed from US workers.
They were actually like, “It’s so anti-worker. The way that y’all speak about your conditions, it’s framed in the way that you should be lucky to be working here,” and like, “Yeah, I worked this much, but I love what I do,” and it’s like, “Yeah. You can love what you do, but also recognize that this is unscalable at this… You can’t just work yourself to death for 20 years, and then expect everything to be okay. Then, our boss is making $200 million a year and laying off all of our French workers because they’re unionized.” There’s just so much that people are actively ignoring because they just think that, “Oh, well, the bosses know what they’re doing,” but it’s always about the bottom line, always about the bottom line, and there’s a human cost every time.
- Fae’s Twitter page and Bluesky page
- Jessica’s Twitter page and Linktree
- IATSE Local 600 website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- ABetterABK website and Twitter page
- Game Workers Alliance website and Twitter page
- Human Rights Campaign, “LGBTQ+ Americans Under Attack: A Report and Reflection on the 2023 State Legislative Session”
- Amelia Hansford, PinkNews, “Trans Journalist Erin Reed on Fighting Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate and Working at the Coalface of Transphobia”
- Tess Owens, Vice News, “The Far Right Has Made Security a Huge Issue For Pride”
- William Phelps, Tag24, “Jessica Gonzalez, Former Activision Blizzard Employee, Is a Champion of Game Workers’ Rights”
- Kellen Browning, The New York Times, “A Vote by Activision Workers Could Give Unions a Foothold in Gaming”
- Kellen Browning & Mike Isaac, The New York Times, “Activision, Facing Internal Turmoil, Grapples With #MeToo Reckoning”
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “The New ‘Lavender Scare’ Is an Attack on the Working Class”
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “Entertainment Workers Discuss the Dark Side of Hollywood and Historic IATSE Strike Vote”
- Julian Mark & Jaclyn Peiser, The Washington Post, “Starbucks Workers at 150 Stores Launch Strike Over Pride Decor”
Permanent links below…
- Working People Patreon page
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- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org)
- Jules Taylor, “Working People” Theme Song
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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InTheseTimes.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.