TRADE UNIONS AND LGBT+ RIGHTS

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By Sandra Owsnett

“Many of us understood that our rights depended on the ability of wider social forces, and in particular the labour movement, to resist attacks on theirs. We had more in common with the striking miners, in this sense, than whatever differences there might seem to be.”
Clive Bradley, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)

We’ve all seen the film Pride?

The film about a group of lesbian and gay activists who worked to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.

The Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group was formed in July 1984, four months into the year-long miners’ strike of 1984-5. The alliance between LGSM and the South Wales striking miners and their families was an important factor in turning the tide in the trade union movement in favour of equality measures for lesbians and gay men. At the October 1984 Labour Party Conference, the National Union of Mineworkers sent the following message of solidarity to the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights:

“Support civil liberties and the struggle of lesbians and gay people. We welcome the links forged with South Wales and other areas. Our struggle is yours. Victory to the miners.”

A year after the miners strike ended, a motion was tabled at the Labour party conference to enshrine lesbian and gay rights into the party’s manifesto. Although the motion has been raised before, this time it was passed. This was due, in part, to a block vote of total approval, from one key union – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Whilst the film brought a slice of lesbian and gay political history to a new audience, some people might not be aware that other unions who were involved in the struggle for lesbian and gay rights, along with the NUM: *NALGO + NUPE + COHSE* (all now UNISON) were also involved.

Its been over 30 years since the inspiring display of solidarity by LGSM. Their action led to increased support for lesbian and gay rights in the trade union movement and contributed to the widespread acceptance and understanding that we see today.

The lesbian and gay rights movement has also become more inclusive and now includes bisexual, trans and intersex people. LGBTQIA, or variants of it, are becoming more widely used terms. But it should be recognised that each person may experience or has experienced discrimination in different ways and it is crucial to ensure that the needs of each are respected equally. But the common issues are the advancement of our rights and legal protections.

Timeline

Stonewall’s website has a timeline for LGBT equality, but below are the key events relating to Trade Unions and employment law.

In 1976, NALGO (now UNISON) said that negotiators should seek to add sexual orientation to non-discrimination clauses in all collective agreements.

In 1977 the first gay and lesbian TUC conference was held to discuss workplace rights. But it wasn’t until 1998 that an annual national conference and committee for LGBT trade unionists was established.

In 2003 Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations became law, making it illegal to discriminate against lesbians, gay and bisexual people in the workplace.

In 2007 The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations outlawed the discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In 2010 The Equality Act made it illegal for an employer to discriminate against any employee on the grounds of many things, including sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act also added gender reassignment as a protected characteristic.

In 2014, the first Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) LGBT Workers’ Conference was held and committee formed. In 2016 they voted to change their name to LGBT+ to be more inclusive.

Legally, with a few limited exceptions, LGBT people now enjoy the same protection and the same rights as any other citizen, consolidated through the 2010 Equality Act, in employment, and in access to goods and services. The public sector equality duty requires all public bodies to promote equality on grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment just as for any of the other protected characteristics.

There has been huge social and legislative progress for LGBT people over the last 30 years. These changes have removed much of the historical discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the experience of many LGBT+ people is that discrimination and prejudice continue; as recently reported in the Scottish LGBT Equality Report, published by the Equality Network in July 2015.

Despite all this progress there is no time for complacency as there is more work to be done. The continued need for workplace/union LGBT+ networks; the work of national and international LGBT+ organisations; and campaigns such as Equal Recognition and TIE; is testament to this.

Trade Unions and Equality

Equality is very much a trade union matter and Trade Unions have a key role in promoting social inclusion for LGBT+ people in the workplace and in society more generally.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has campaigned for equal rights for lesbian and gay men since 1985, when the first lesbian and gay rights policy was adopted. The policy has since been extended to include bisexual and trans members too. The TUC has also been involved in all campaigns to end legal discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trade Unions fights discrimination and prejudice in the workplace on behalf of its LGBT+ members. They also work together in local and national groups to campaign and provide support for their members.

In the workplace LGBT+ people may experience oppression and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But it is a basic human right to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. Employers need to be made aware of their obligations under the law and trade union representatives have a key role in seeing these are implemented.

Trade Unions are committed to:

  • supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace and in the union;
  • securing equal opportunities policies which include sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • ensuring that workplace procedures dealing with discrimination and harassment cover sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • ensuring that employment benefits and agreements, such as pensions and family leave arrangements include same sex couples;
  • challenging discrimination of LGBT+ people and inequality generally;
  • campaigning for, promoting and advancing LGBT+ equal and human rights in the workplace, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

International Solidarity

The legal and social situation for LGBT+ people is very different around the world. At many Trade Union conferences there have been reports on the abuses of human & civil rights, which confirm why trade union support is needed. Trade Unions recognise that the gains made in the UK must be replicated worldwide and that the persecution of LGBT+ communities must be stopped.

The TUC and many British trade unions are affiliated to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). ILGA, which was founded in 1978, is a worldwide network of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for LGBT+ people everywhere.

The TUC is also affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which puts pressure on the International Labour Organisations and the UN Commission on Human Rights to adopt positive policies on LGBT+ equality.

Scottish Green Party

Green parties want to see a fair and just society, where everyone is treated equally and enjoys the same rights.

The Scottish Green Party believes that Scotland can be a welcoming and safe country for LGBTI+ people. They believe in the right of all people to live free from harassment, discrimination or persecution relating to sexual orientation or gender identity. The party will champion full equality before the law for LGBTI+ communities, and will continue to push for the devolution of equalities law.

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens Co-Convener: “Scotland has come along way on equality since Greens proposed the civil partnership legislation in 2003. That legislation came on the back of the best ever Green performance. We hope that an even bigger group of Green MSPs and make an even bigger impact for equality.

“While much important legislative change has been achieved, Scotland still has some way to go to tackle the culture of homophobia.  That is something that should be a priority over the period of the next Scottish Parliament. Greens are committed to achieving this cultural change to a society with equality at its heart.”

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens Co-Convener: “It was campaigning for the scrapping of Section 2A that motivated me to get involved in the Scottish Green Party, and I’ve always been proud that the Greens have been ahead of the curve on equality.

“We backed equal marriage long before it became law, created Europe’s most trans-inclusive laws against hate crime, and we don’t treat homophobia as a special ‘conscience issue’ allowing our MSPs to oppose equality.”

More reading

Scottish Green Party LGBTI+ Manifesto

TUC: LGBT Equality at Work leaflet

TUC: LGBT workers and mental health

STUC: Supporting LGBT Workers

STUC: Supporting Trans Workers

ITUC: International LGBT Solidarity A Trade Union Charter

ITUC Blogs:

Why the Struggle for LGBTI Rights must be My Struggle and Yours

Ending LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace

LGBT Equality is a Trade Union issue like any other

*
NALGO – National and Local Government Officers’ Association
NUPE – the National Union of Public Employees
COHSE – the Confederation of Health Service Employees
*

Graphic from ILGA website:

http://ilga.org/downloads/03_ILGA_WorldMap_ENGLISH_Overview_May2016.pdf

03_ILGA_WorldMap_ENGLISH_Overview_May2016.png

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