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Queering the Labor Movement
By  Anne Balay

Unions should draw lessons from queer activism about how to sustainably, even joyfully build power.

Iorganize for the Service Employees International Union. I’m thrilled to be a part of a surging labor movement, but I’m not blind to our failures. SEIU is a low-wage workers’ union—in St. Louis, we organize janitors, concession workers, lunch ladies, and adjunct faculty. These are all jobs dominated by women and people of color. Yet our leaders, both in our union staff and among our members, are mostly men.

HELU Panel at 2023 MLA

The theme of the 2023 MLA Convention was Working Conditions. So the organizers asked HELU to participate in a panel on adjunct labor. I was the fourth speaker.

Risk & Reward: An Interview with Labor Author and Organizer Anne Balay

Anne Balay published her first book, Steel Closets, featuring the stories of forty gay, lesbian, and trans steelworkers, in 2014. Four years later, after a personal career setback, she persevered and published her second book, Semi Queer, focusing on the world of gay, trans, and black truck drivers. 

For the latest episode of Solidarity Works, and in honor of Pride Month, we talk to Balay about the adrenaline of survival, overcoming other people’s prejudices as well as our own, and the richly textured lives of some of America’s most marginalized yet resilient workers. Visit to learn more.

For Pride Month, Here’s Your Definitive Reading List on Queerness and Work

These books enable us to think about labor organizing “queerly”—in ways that undermine power hierarchies. By calling attention to and challenging management’s authority, queer organizing enables a collective resistance that’s for everybody.
Inside the Growing World of Queer Truckers

Climbing up into the seat of her first big rig truck, author Anne Balay felt powerful instead of angry. Semis tower menacingly above all other vehicles. Looking out over the dashboard can make you feel invincible in ways most jobs can’t compete with. Even with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago, finding a tenured job in academia is no easy feat. While stitching together adjunct gigs, Balay found herself broke. With two small kids to look after, she needed steady employment. With an abiding love of cars, she took a job as an auto mechanic. Soon after, she parlayed that experience into a truck-driving training program with one of the nation’s oldest and largest trucking companies.
“You’re Safer In The Truck Than You Are At Home": Trans Truckers On The Road
Dianna Vasher loves her job as a truck driver. Each week, she drives 3,000 miles in an 18-wheeler she’s retrofitted to make feel like home, its interior decorated with twinkle lights and a pink leather steering wheel cover.
“All the drivers name their trucks,” says Vasher. “Every truck is kind of temperamental.” Hers, she says, “feels like a Greta.”
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Off the beaten path: From steelworks to truckers, Anne Balay writes about LGBTQI lives
Anne Balay was working as an assistant professor in 2014 when her book on queer Indiana steel mill workers Steel Closets was published. When she wasn't offered tenure, Balay decided to use the opportunity to do something she had always wanted to do: drive an 18-wheeler. Balay only drove for a brief time before she was offered another professorship, but her foray into trucking coincided with an enormous increase in LGBTQI and Black truck drivers. Her new book Semi Queer studies this phenomenon in terms of gender, race, economics and history.
Author tells the untold stories of gay, trans truck drivers in new book
The life of a truck driver can be a lonely one, away from home for days or weeks on end; hours upon hours sitting in a cab, focused on the horizon with only your own thoughts and maybe a radio station to keep you company. Yet it is a life that some populations find attractive, even consoling to some extent. For gay, lesbian, transgender and black truck drivers, life on the road can be a comfort and provide a level of safety and security, in part because of the way the trucking community has accepted them.
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The Page 99 Test
on Anne Balay's "Semi Queer" by Marshal Zeringue
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." --Ford Madox Ford
Anne Balay graduated with a PhD from the University of Chicago, after which she promptly became a car mechanic. Though in subsequent years she returned to academia as a professor both at the University of Illinois and Indiana University Northwest, she never lost her interest in blue collar work environments.
Long-Haul Trucking and Mental Health
Long-haul trucking can leave workers vulnerable to a host of mental-health issues, but the demands of the job often mean they have trouble accessing care. Earlier this year, a truck driver known as “Maddog Trucker,” the owner of a popular trucking blog, took to his site to post some thoughts about road safety. This winter has been a particularly bad one for trucker wrecks, and Maddog was emotional...
Mona Shattell (@MonaShattell), PhD, RN, FAAN is professor and chairperson of the department of community, systems, and mental health nursing. Prior to joining the faculty at Rush University College of Nursing, Dr.  Shattell served at DePaul University as associate dean for research and faculty development in the College of Science and Health, and as professor of nursing in the School of Nursing; associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Long-Haul Sweatshops
IT might seem like a good time to be a long-haul trucker: More than ever, the American economy relies on hundreds of thousands of 18-wheelers to move goods across the country. But the industry is in crisis, with drivers leaving in droves because of low pay and poor working conditions.
Mona Shattell (@MonaShattell), PhD, RN, FAAN is professor and chairperson of the department of community, systems, and mental health nursing. Prior to joining the faculty at Rush University College of Nursing, Dr.  Shattell served at DePaul University as associate dean for research and faculty development in the College of Science and Health, and as professor of nursing in the School of Nursing; associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
No More Potlucks 
In Conversation with Anne Balay, Author of “Steel Closets” –by Andrea Zeffiro

On October 22, 2015, Anne Balay gave a talk at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) called “Tradition and the Individual Steelworker: Stories of technological and social change.” In this talk, Balay draws on the oral histories of steelworkers in Northwest Indiana and South Chicago. These stories form the backbone of her book, Steel Closets, which explores how change, and the widespread resistance to it, has affected sexuality, risk, health, and everyday life.

The Torch
Wordfest examines stereotypes

In the male-driven workplace of the steel mills, there is no higher insult than being feminine. Being caught in a homosexual relationship or transitioning gender is the worst offense. 

The LGBT community in the steel mills was the subject of author and professor Dr. Anne Balay’s Wordfest talk on Thursday

Yale University
Dr. Anne Balay announced as the recipient of the second annual Yale LGBT Studies Research Fellowship

Yale LGBT Studies is very pleased to announce Dr. Anne Balay as the recipient of the second annual LGBT Studies Research Fellowship.  The Fellowship is offered annually, and is designed to provide access to Yale’s diverse resources in LGBT Studies for scholars who live outside the greater New Haven area. - See more at:

The Advocate
18 Must Read LGBT Books We Missed Last Year by Diane Anderson-Minshall

The image of the LGBT rights movement in American is largely a middle-class one, but in Steel Closets, gender studies professor Anne Balay uses the stories of 40 working-class lesbian, gay, and trans steelworkers (most from Indiana) to illuminate a previously invisible population. In doing so, we get to better see the intersections of class, gender, sexuality, and labor that exist in the treacherous industrial workplace of a steel mill.

Sage Journals
Book Review: Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers by Anne Balay by Carol S. Walther

Anne Balay notes that very few studies about LGBT people are from the working class and even less so from such a specific blue-collar industry. She interviews more than 40 steelworkers who work in a field that has seen intense upheaval since the 1970s in manufacturing technology and competition from overseas. Many of these workers remain closeted during their working life because of the intense, hazardous, and communal nature of their work and because of the emotional and physical isolation of the mills.

Women's Review of Books

Hard Work and Overalls by Bettina Aptheker

Anne Balay has produced an astonishing work of ethnography. As a testament to the sheer magnitude of suffering, resourcefulness, and perseverance of our queer sisters and brothers in steel, she has written a labor of love.

Windy City Media
Expose could lead to protections for LGBT steelworkers by Derrick Clifton


For LGBT workers at steel mills, it hasn't gotten better. But there's hope.

Even with the waves of progress in America on issues such as same-sex marriage and employment non-discrimination laws from state-to-state, progress seems to have missed steelworkers at plants across the country, including in Chicago's backyard. They endure on-the-job harassment, sexual assault, physical threats, violent attacks and can be fired at any time just because of who they are—because Indiana doesn't protect LGBT workers.

But at an upcoming international steelworkers' union convention Aug. 11 in Las Vegas, that could all change with an affirmative vote on an LGBT employment protection resolution.

WBEZ's Morning Shift
President's Executive Order Calls attention to Blue Collar Workers

June is Pride Month but there are those who dare not publicly celebrate being LGBT, especially at work. That’s because they live in one of 29 states where you can still be fired for being gay. And if you work in a blue collar job like a steel mill, being out can mean harassment and sometimes physical violence at the hands of co-workers. Gary, Indiana, author Anne Balay talked with LGBT workers at steel mills in Gary, Pittsburgh and Canada about the struggles they face. Their stories are included in her book The Steel Closet: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers. Balay joins Morning Shift to share their stories and explain why she changed her view on same sex marriage.

The University of Chicago 
LGBT Alumni Special Feature by Eric Allix Rogers.


Anne Balay, AB'86 AM'88 PhD'94, always knew she wanted to write. The child of a Yale librarian, she left New Haven in 1982 to enroll at the University of Chicago as an English major. She loved it so much that she spent a year working at the Regenstein Library after graduating from the College, and then returned to start her PhD in English the next year. Her favorite professor, and ultimately dissertation adviser, was Bill Veeder, whose "energy, attitude, and rigorous analytical style" Balay strives to channel in her own teaching.

Lavendar University Lecture Series
Video by Windy City Times
From Windy City Times: At Lavender University, hosted by Windy City Times and Center on Halsted Sat., April 5, 2014: Anne Balay discussing Steel Closets: Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers. Her new book takes a fascinating look at LGBT steel workers.
Interview with Huffpost Live
Special Guest: Bill Tortat

From Huffpost: Scholar Anne Balay interviewed 40 gay steelworkers for her book, "Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers." We speak to her about the challenges this community faces.

Northwest Indiana Times
Author could not find books on gay steelworkers, so she wrote one. By Joseph S. Pete

GARY | Two women who worked at a local steel mill hid a secret from their co-workers – they lived together and were romantically involved.

But one sunk deeper into depression until her partner returned home one night to find her with a gun in her mouth.

She pulled the trigger.

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