Stop the Hate, (10 October 1999) Los Angeles, CA


Nancy F. Wohlforth (1945 – present)—a union leader and labor activist—was known for her fierce commitment to social justice issues. She was especially known for her work to secure fair treatment of labor rights for gays and lesbians. Her upbringing was influenced by socialist parents whose lives were affected greatly by the insecurity of the Great Depression. Born in June 1945, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her family provided her with a foundation of labor politics at an early age.1 While a student at Columbia University in 1968, Wohlforth participated in student-labor alliances and sit-ins on behalf of anti-war and anti-segregation protests. After she earned a degree in U.S. history, Wohlforth went on to do clerical work for the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU).2 In the mid-1970s, Wohlforth moved to San Francisco and served in various roles as an international union official. Prior to coming out as a lesbian, Wohlforth married fellow labor activist and author Tim Wohlforth. The two remained close after their divorce in 1977.3

Some of Wohlforth’s most notable work involved the fusion of LGBT history and labor politics that began with the Coors boycotts in 1977. Known for their union-busting practices, the Adolph Coors Company also resisted the calls for grape boycotts from Dolores Huerta and César Chávez of the United Farm Workers a decade prior. Additionally, the company’s hiring practices appeared discriminatory toward many groups, including women, gays and lesbians, as well as black and Latinx workers.4 The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union (IBT) credited employment discrimination as the reason for the alliance between gay rights and labor rights. The LGBT coalition was especially troubled by Coors’ hiring practices because the company asked about applicants’ sexuality and pro-union support on its employment application. Applicants were barred from employment if they self-identified as lesbian or gay and if they expressed support for unions.5 In 1977, the AFL-CIO joined a boycott against Coors, and Wohlforth introduced a resolution before the OPEIU to boycott Coors. She joined forces with Harvey Milk and other activists in the 1970s to drive Coors beer out of every gay and lesbian bar in the city of San Francisco.6 In 2017, Wohlforth recalled the drama of the moment: “The gay bartenders marched out with the bottles of beer and dumped them in the sewers. Coors was anti-gay, and racist and anti-Latino. And to this day, you can’t find Coors in a gay bar in San Francisco.”7

The boycott lasted a decade before negotiations between the AFL-CIO and Coors were finalized, but the alliance between labor and LGBT causes encouraged gays and lesbians in unions to branch out to other issues. After the Coors boycott, Wohlforth co-founded the Lesbian and Gay Labor Alliance (LGLA) in 1980. The LGLA aligned with other LGBT labor caucuses to leverage their power with the AFL-CIO to oppose same-sex discrimination and to support domestic partner benefits in 1983. They also opposed anti-gay-rights initiatives proposed in 1993.8

Experienced unionists from LGLA and other LGBT interest groups joined forces under Wohlforth’s leadership to found Pride at Work (PAW) in 1994.9 PAW’s founding mission was to address cases of workplace mistreatment against gay and lesbian people. Prior to their formation, all discrimination issues were handled locally by the union. In 1997, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO voted unanimously to incorporate PAW as an official constituency group.10

In 1999, Wohlforth delivered a speech at a panel on hate crimes at the annual AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles, CA. There, she used the highly publicized murders of James Byrd Jr., a black man murdered by white supremacists, and Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered for his sexuality, to advocate for hate crime legislation that included sexuality protections.11 Without proper legislation, there was no clear way to track violence against LGBT people. To build solidarity, Wohlforth’s address featured vivid analogies between the LGBT community and other disempowered groups (e.g., immigrants, people of color, and women). Wohlforth sought to prove that hate represented a common enemy to the labor movement as a whole. She ended her speech with the rallying cry from the Industrial Workers of the World, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”12

Wohlforth also served as the international vice president, business manager, and secretary treasurer of OPEIU. Her position as vice president in the OPEIU earned her recognition as the first “out” lesbian international official in any union. In 2005, she was elected to the executive council of the AFL-CIO.13 After she retired, Wohlforth stayed in the Washington, D.C. area with her partner, Denice Lombard,14 where she served as the National President Emerita of PAW. She received a Solidarity Award in 2018 for her career in fighting for both worker and LGBT rights.15


  1. Nancy Wohlforth, interview by Miriam Frank, April 11, 1995, “Out in the Union,” transcript, Gays and Lesbians in the Labor Movement, Miriam Frank Oral History Collection, OH 039, Box 5, Tape 48-49, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Cole B. Erin and Allyson Brantley, “The Coors Boycott: When A Beer Can Signaled Your Politics,” Colorado Public Radio, October 3, 2014,
  5. Press Associates, Inc., “Teamsters Pride At Work: A Look Back At The Coors Boycott,” Teamsters, June 2, 2017,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Nancy Wohlforth, interview by Miriam Frank.
  9. The name “Pride at Work” originated as the title of an organizing handbook published in 1990 based on the formation of many different gay coalitions in several unions. Desma Holcomb and Nancy Wohlforth, “The Fruits of Our Labor: Pride at Work,” New Labor Forum, no. 8 (2001): 18.
  10. Stefen Styrsky, “Lesbian Assumes a Top AFL-CIO Role,” Gay City News, September 21, 2005, Updated July 20, 2018,
  11. Benjamin Bradley, “Nancy Wohlforth: Uniting the Labor and LGBT Movements,” University of Maryland Special Collections & University Archives, June 29, 2017,
  12. William Dudley Haywood, The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood (New York: International Publishers, 1929), 186.
  13. Nancy Wohlforth, OPEIU Website, Archived July 7, 2011, Internet Archive,
  14. Johanna Li, “50 Years After Transplant: The Oldest Living Kidney Donor Pair Are Still Going Strong,” Inside Edition, April 4, 2017, Few articles have been written about Wohlforth and Lombard’s life since retirement, but the anniversary of Lombard’s kidney transplant brought attention to the pair’s whereabouts in 2017, including the fact that they live together in Washington, D.C.
  15. Terrance Heath, “Meet the Woman Who Quietly Made Sure Democrats Became LGBTQ Friendly,” LGBTQ Nation, September 19, 2018,