The equality gains of past decades are now gravely threatened by the election of a majority Conservative government, explains PETER PURTON
MORE than two hundred LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) trade unionists and union officers will gather for the 2015 TUC LGBT Conference today and tomorrow, knowing that it will be a challenge to protect recent advances towards equality.
Motions submitted by unions reflect many ongoing concerns and show that the battle for LGBT equality is far from won.
Hanging over the entire conference is the Conservative election victory. Alongside the threat to trade union rights, the new government is threatening the Human Rights Act and will “review” the public sector equality duty.
It’s a stark reminder that the same prime minister who legislated for same-sex marriage is also determined to reduce the already shrunken access to justice using courts and employment tribunals.
Bad bosses everywhere have welcomed the Conservative victory and the perception that equality is not so important. It has become harder and harder to exercise equality rights in workplaces and, combined with the clampdown on union facility time, harder for union representatives to play their proper part.
Those who oppose equality on religious grounds will continue to test the boundaries of the law, such as the bakers who are appealing against a judgement that they discriminated by refusing to bake a cake with a pro-same-sex marriage slogan.
Meanwhile the government continues to sit on the review of survivor pensions published a year ago. The injustice of a system that discriminates against same-sex survivors as well as widowers cannot be denied. The TUC campaign against it will feature at the conference and delegates will be encouraged to sign and circulate a petition.
The TUC has signed up to the manifesto produced by trans organisations calling for an overhaul of the current legislation and the abolition of the “spousal veto” that forces someone transitioning to go through divorce proceedings before obtaining a gender recognition certificate. That’s another case of being “not quite equal” yet.
The global picture for LGBT rights continues to be contradictory. Alongside further progress towards recognition reflected in the brilliant equal marriage referendum result in Ireland stands the refusal of Northern Ireland to shift on the issue.
There was a successful EuroPride march attracting thousands in Riga last week, but elsewhere governments have become ever-more oppressive. The Supreme Court will rule imminently on the legality of same-sex marriage in the US.
The bigotry and xenophobia that was unleashed in the 2015 election campaign is a threat to all equality groups, not just asylum-seekers and migrants. Prejudice does not respect boundaries and the reports published this week that expose the massive scale of hate crime against LGBT people confirms that the progress made in winning legal rights has not yet been converted into social acceptance of LGBT people as equals.
The evidence of the 2013 survey into workplace prejudice against LGB people confirmed that those thought to be LGB are two and a half times more likely to be bullied or harassed because of their sexuality, that managers and employers did not know how to respond — and most alarmingly, that many of the perpetrators deny they are being homophobic.
The conclusion from this finding is that social acceptance is sometimes only skin-deep.
We need a combined effort to strengthen trade union support for equality in the workplace and in negotiations with employers, alongside the integration of equality issues into the resistance to austerity.
This will be the message that trade unionists will present to the hundreds of thousands of people who take part in or watch London Pride the day after the conference: join us in the fight against austerity, join a union to secure your rights at work.
LGBT voluntary-sector organisations are struggling to survive in an age of austerity-fuelled cuts, and their ability to provide the expert services needed by the community is being curtailed. Reports confirm the extent of prejudice still faced by young LGBT people in particular, and homelessness and mental health feature among the conference motions.
Homophobia in education remains endemic and the government’s commitment to free schools and academies is making the task of promoting acceptance and equality through education — an essential starting point for changing social attitudes — even more of a challenge.
In the months to come, the TUC will also encourage grassroots campaigning against prejudice in football, the national sport.
The enemy of progress is complacency and too many people, inside and outside the LGBT communities, think the battle is won. As survey evidence and the election results show, that view is mistaken and the TUC LGBT Conference will be a forum for an alternative agenda of resistance and inclusion.