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Trade unionists led the fight for LGBT rights, but the struggle for an equal world continues

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This year to celebrate Manchester Pride 2019 I’ve been reflecting on how far we’ve come in the pursuit of LGBT+ equality and how trade unions have been at the heart of driving change.

This year we celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall riots took place, when lesbians, trans people, bisexuals and gay men rose up together and fought back against the police who regularly raided gay bars and other LGBT venues.

The riots unified and galvanised LGBT people across the globe, inspiring them to stand up, be counted and join the campaign for equal rights.

Trade union members were at the heart of that campaign, and over time they brought their unions along with them.

Ever since, trade unions and their members have supported LGBT+ rights and pushed forward LGBT equality. And that’s what we’ll be celebrating this weekend in Manchester.

A history of leading the struggle

If you’ve ever seen the movie Pride, you’ll know that it was the National Union of Miners that supported a motion promoting lesbian and gay rights at the TUC’s congress in 1985. This is turn ensured the Labour Party adopted progressive policies in opposition and later in government.

What you might not know is that trade unionists have been active in the campaign for LGBT+ rights since the days of the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s. In 1976 NALGO members took strike action to defend one of their gay members who’d been victimised by the employer. And they won.

During the 1980s, trade unions were active in opposing section 28 which banned the "promotion" of LGBT relationships and people by local authorities and in Britain's schools. And the public sector unions worked together to negotiate with civil service managers on/around HIV/AIDS and best practice.

In the 90s, trade unions continued working to advance LGBT+ rights.

In 1995 the TUC made the call for same sex marriage with Stonewall and released a flyer called ‘For Richer or Poorer’. In 1996 we worked with the Pink Paper helped setup a three day hotline to ‘shop the bad boss.’

Finally, in 1998, the TUC employed their first full time LGBT policy officer and set up the Lesbian and Gay Conference and Committee to progress LGBT equality.

In 2002 the Lesbian and Gay Conference and Committee was extended to include bisexual and trans people formally becoming the LGBT Conference and Committee.

And in 2016, the TUC formally added a plus to ensure all queer people were included within its democratic structures.

Winning change for LGBT people

By putting in place its own formal trade union democratic structure, the TUC helped further galvanise the whole movement, ensuring trade unions worked together to advance LGBT+ rights in work and society more widely.

In the last two decades alone the TUC, trade unions and their LGBT+ activists have:

More work to do

We’ve come a long way in fighting for equality but there’s more to be done.

Over the past 12 months we’ve seen a huge spike in the number LGBT+ hate crimes reported, with the number of LGBT hate crime per capita rising by 144% between 2013-14 and 2017-18 and an increase in trans hate crimes of 81%.

We must continue and redouble our efforts to bring about equality at work and in society at large. We must ensure all LGBT+ people have equal life chances.

The trade union movement brings people together through a commitment to equality and our real life experience of the challenges facing working people.

We oppose any violence or intimidation, bullying or disrespect, towards any group that faces discrimination, and from whatever quarter.

That's why we will continue to lead the fight for LGBT+ equality and keep standing up for our values.

Happy Pride.

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