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LGBT history month: looking to the future

Melantha Chittenden
Melantha Chittenden
1st February 2019

“Without the support of unions we wouldn’t be where we are today…”

LGBT people, like me, use LGBT history month to celebrate the courage of LGBT people who came before us, ensuring that their stories are not forgotten or erased from history. We also use it to look to the future, by campaigning for a society where full equality is a reality and LGBT people can live freely and honestly, not just in the UK but around the world.

It’s often easy to forget that just over two decades ago, you could be sacked for being LGBT, that using homophobic, transphobic and biphobic slurs would have been commonplace in many workplaces and that LGBT people didn’t have a legal right to live free from harassment and discrimination.

Since that time trade unions have a proud history of standing with LGBT people in the fight for equality, even before it was popular, from supporting LGBT activists in their bid to have LGBT rights enshrined in the Labour Party’s constitution and pushing the 1997-2010 Labour governments to establish almost full legal equality to helping to change public opinion on same-sex marriage. The fight for LGBT rights was won by LGBT activists often putting their jobs, livelihoods and relationships on the line, but without the support of the trade union movement we wouldn’t be where we are today.

While the work of LGBT activists and their trade unions has resulted in almost full legal equality in Scotland, England and Wales, and a significant increase in the rights of LGBT people over the last two decades, there is still a long way to go.

Despite the implementation of the Equalities Act which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBT people still often face harassment and discrimination in the workplace. A recent report by Stonewall found that almost one in five LGBT staff have been the target of negative comments from work colleagues because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with 12 per cent of trans people having been physically attacked at work by a colleague or customer.

Concerned about the discrimination they could face, 35 per cent of LGBT people hide their identity from their colleagues. Not only does this mean that they cannot be open and honest about who they are, it can also lead to long term mental health problems.

With LGBT people still facing discrimination at work, it’s vital that trade unions continue to stand with us by educating workers around LGBT issues, pushing for fairer workplace policies and practices, and campaigning with us to end discrimination once and for all.

At the same time, with LGBT people’s rights under threat on our departure from the protection of the European Union, it is now more vital than ever that LGBT people join trade unions. 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.

Melantha Chittenden is Research and Policy Officer at Community and Co-Chair of LGBT Labour