Today marks the first day of LGBT+ History Month. It is a time when LGBT+ people and their allies celebrate the lives and legacies of people from LGBT+ communities. These stories have often been hidden or overlooked– sharing them allows us to celebrate those people and the amount of progress made for LGBT+ communities, as well as highlighting the struggles they have faced or continue to face.
It’s true that substantial progress towards equality for LGBT+ people has been made in the last few decades.
It’s A Sin, currently being broadcast on Channel 4, tells the story of five friends in the late 80s and early 90s during the emergence of HIV/AIDS. In its second episode (set in 1983) one of the main characters, Colin, is dismissed from his job working at a Savile Row tailor after his boss discovers he’s been researching information on HIV/AIDS whilst on a working trip to New York.
Stories like Colin were once all too common. For many people, going to work once meant hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity, knowing that their colleagues or bosses finding out could have meant they would lose their job.
Trade unions, and trade union activists, have a long history of supporting LGBT+ communities. Teaching and public sector unions were amongst the major opponents of the introduction of Section 28 in 1988, then the first anti-LGBT+ law to be passed in a century. The union block vote in 1985 ensured that a resolution passed for the Labour Party to be committed to promoting lesbian and gay rights.
In the time since the setting of that It’s a Sin episode, many crucial protections for LGBT+ people at work have been won. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination based on nine protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
In practice, this means that an employer cannot refuse to employ or dismiss someone because they are LGBT+, cannot refuse them access to training or promotions because they are LGBT+, cannot give them an unfair reference because they are LGBT+ and cannot deny them benefits or services given to non-LGBT+ workers.Despite the enormous and very welcome progress made, there is still more to do. A report written by Stonewall and YouGov in 2018 showed that almost one in five LGBT+ staff (18 per cent) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT+.
The report also found that more than a third of LGBT+ staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT+ at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination. One in eight lesbian, gay and bi people wouldn’t feel confident reporting any homophobic or biphobic bullying to their employer, and one in five trans people wouldn’t report transphobic bullying in the workplace.
In June last year, we produced a guide for LGBT+ workers and allies, explaining what rights you have at work, and best practice for workplaces to make LGBT+ people feel supported and safe.
Trade unions, like Community, will be fighting to maintain and extend LGBT+ rights every step of the way, and it is with strength in numbers and a strong collective voice that we will succeed.