Unions empower local activists to bring about LGBT equality

  • 13 March 2017

There is no place for prejudice. There's certainly "no room for complacency", writes the TUC’s LGBT Equality Officer, Huma Munshi. In this blog, she reprises her Ethical Insights talk on LGBT issues and ethical trade.

As a result of campaigning, and often with the support of trade unions, equal legal rights for LGBT people have been secured in many countries. But there is no room for complacency. The persecution of LGBT activists is still a stark reality.

Last year, Bangladesh gay rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and founder of the country's only LGBT magazine was hacked to death. In Honduras, LGBT rights activist Rene Martinez was found dead days after he was kidnapped outside his home.

There are also LGBT people globally who face multiple forms of inequality because their LGBT status is coupled with being a person of colour or being of faith.

Those living under a strict “honour code” often have to hide their trans status; being LGBT is seen as bringing dishonour to the family and is punishable with violence, repression and in extreme cases, death.

The global picture

A 2016 survey by the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association reports that:

  • There are 73 countries where homosexuality is still a criminal offence.
  • In 45 of these countries, the law is applied to women as well as men.
  • There are 13 countries where the death penalty might be applied for same-sex sexual acts.

This means that there are over 400 million people living under laws which punish same-sex sex with the death penalty.

The legislative framework protecting LGBT people in the workplace is patchy at best and only 71 UN states currently offer such protection.

Union action to promote equality

Unions have a long history of working with employers and community organisations to promote equality in the workplace and beyond. We do this globally and locally in a number of ways.

There is social dialogue between trade unions, activists and employers on equal opportunities and equal treatment for LGBT workers. Unions have also bargained for collective agreements aimed at eliminating discrimination.

There are structural changes such as promoting self-organised groups in the workplace so LGBT workers themselves can determine what works best for them and there is training to increase LGBT leadership in union structures

We provide training to activist members and union officials, for example, by producing training materials or by targeting training to members of disadvantaged groups.

On Trans Remembrance Day we launched a guide on trans equality and promoted this with a video outlining good practice.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada has produced training modules for its shop stewards. These modules can be used by trade union representatives around the world and adapted to include the realities of LGBTI rights in each country.

We also have partnerships with NGOs. Key initiatives include organising joint conferences, participating in LGBT events (e.g. pride) including demonstrations and sporting events and bringing out joint publications and joint lobbying for legal changes e.g. equal marriage rights.

The TUC’s international charter on LGBT solidarity

The TUC has produced an international charter on LGBT solidarity.

The charter outlines the importance of listening to the voices of LGBT communities within the country where solidarity has been requested – and only to speak on their behalf if specifically requested. It also states that UK unions will work with local trade unions to support their activism and fight for LGBT equality.

The struggle is far from over but there is significant work being done by unions, NGOs and businesses.

Our final suggestion: If you’re a business starting out on this journey, take advice and share good practice to develop a more inclusive work environment.  

The TUC is launching a survey into the experiences of LGBT workers to better understand the type of sectors they are in, whether they are out about their sexuality or trans status, their experiences of discrimination and how they access justice. This survey is open to all workers, whether they are in a trade union or not. The findings will help inform the TUC's work and ensure it can develop the resources and campaigns to address this issue:  https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LGBTworker

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ETI's blog covers issues at the intersection of business, news and ethical trade. We welcome a range of insights and opinions from our guest bloggers, though don't necessarily agree with everything they say.