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LGBT+ rights are enshrined in law. The 2010 Equality Act could not be clearer: discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment are explicitly prohibited.
Prejudice, however, runs deep in our society, and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain endemic problems in the workplace and elsewhere. They have a pernicious and destructive impact that can sap the confidence of LGBT+ people, compromise their mental health and destroy their careers.
Following debate at last year’s TUC LGBT conference, the TUC undertook extensive research to identify the extent of the problems and better understand the experiences of LGBT+ workers, both unionised and non-unionised.
At the launch, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We hope that this comprehensive research will let us shine a light on the range of issues faced by LGBT workers across the UK.”
The results published today were predictable but distressing nevertheless. Over a third of LGBT+ workers reported bullying and harassment at work, and this figure rose to almost half of the trans people who responded.
Nearly two in five people suffered from harassment or discrimination by colleagues, a quarter by a manager and around one in seven by a client or patient.
These figures are truly shocking, but not surprising in a society where appalling behaviour can be trivialised and dismissed as “banter.”
That practice came through all too clearly in the findings. More than 60 per cent of respondents had heard homophobic or biphobic remarks or jokes directed to others in their workplace, while over a quarter had been targeted personally.
But this is no joking matter. Over half of all those who responded, and as many as 70 per cent of those who identified as trans, said that their experience of workplace harassment or discrimination had adversely affected their mental health.
Most seriously, around one in 20 people had experienced reported physical violence in the workplace.
It is understandable therefore that many workers choose not to disclose their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace.
Only half of all respondents were “out” to everyone at work, and young people and women were especially cautious.
Significant numbers of workers on zero-hours contracts and in other forms of precarious employment were out to nobody.
As a result, people are less likely to report incidents. Indeed, only a third of respondents had mentioned the most recent incident of harassment or discrimination to their employer, and only one in eight had raised it with human resources.
At the same time people do have a right to privacy, though sadly that right is not universally respected by others.
Just under a quarter of all respondents had been outed against their will, while almost a third of transgender respondents reported that their trans status had been disclosed without their permission.
This survey may identify the nature and extent of the problems, but action needs to be taken.
Trade unions and their members have a vital role to play, and it was therefore encouraging to hear positive anecdotes of union support and representation.
The campaigning zeal of activists is unabashed and delegates assembling today for this year’s TUC LGBT conference will debate motions that call upon the TUC and affiliates to challenge prejudice, discrimination and hate crime and explore ways of supporting everyone’s mental health.
The Tories cannot be trusted — a majority of their MPs voted against equal marriage in 2013.
Their new friends in the DUP even used a petition of concern to subvert the democratic will of the Northern Ireland Assembly and prevent equal marriage legislation reaching the statute book in Northern Ireland.
As trade unionists — individually and collectively — we must take the action that is needed.
Exposure of wrongdoing must not stop with the publication of this survey, and we must continue to spread the message that discrimination and harassment are wrong, and call them out whenever they occur.
- Debbie Hayton is an NASUWT activist and a member of the TUC LGBT+ committee.
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