For many, February marks LGBT History month. This month provides the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (‘LGBT’) community and its allies with the opportunity to honour the courage and stories of those who have come before us, and raise awareness of the work we still have left to do. Held in February, the event is to coincide with the 2003 abolition of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act; a piece of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, that stated that local authorities were not allowed to ‘intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’.
This year, LGBT History month has a particular significance, in that it is 50 years since the Stonewall riots; a 1969 uprising in New York that is considered by many to be the birth of the modern fight for LGBT rights. Since then, there has been a relatively rapid, but by no means easy, fight for equality. In Scotland, Homosexuality was only decriminalised as recently as 1980, but attitudes were not so quick to change, as marriage equality was only granted 6 years ago.
Trade unions played an enormous part in many of these victories in the LGBT community, from the beginning of our struggle for equality. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s trade unions added equality to their agendas, and have since kept up the fight and have continually campaigned for full equality.
As recently as 2003, employers could discriminate against LGBT people by not hiring them or not promoting them, just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people didn’t have much protection from bullying in the workplace, and sometimes weren’t offered the same benefits as other colleagues, or were unfairly affected by rules at work. The Employment Equality Regulations made all these kinds of discrimination illegal.
While the work of LGBT activists and 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. 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% of trans people having been physically attacked at work by a colleague or customer. As a result, 35% of LGBT people hide their identity from their colleagues. This increases to almost half (42%) of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role stated they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status.
As recent and momentous these changes in society have been; the sad reality is that LGBT rights both at home, and across the world are currently worse than any of us can begin to comprehend; same-sex relationships are illegal in 72 countries, and is even punishable by death in 8 of those countries. As such, a quarter of the world’s population believes that identifying as LGBT should be a crime.
It is important that we use this month to look to the future, to campaign for a society where full equality is a reality and LGBT people, so they can forget the discrimination and atrocities of those that have come before them, not just in the UK but around the world. And if history has taught us anything, it is that there is strength in numbers and with a strong collective voice we will succeed, much like those at Stonewall did 50 years ago.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” – George Orwell
Steven McGregor is a member of Community’s National Executive Council and a Community rep based in Scotland.
LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements.
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