Why every LGBT worker should join a union

Published date
05 Jul 2018
Unions are powerful - they make sure LGBT people are treated fairly and with respect at work
Photo credit: Getty Images/Bikeworldtravel

Nowadays, you could be forgiven for thinking Pride is just a party.

But it is so much more than that – it’s a chance for the whole rainbow community and spectrum to come together to be visible, celebrate our lives, and mark all the progress we’ve made together.

And it’s a chance to highlight how much is still left to do before all LGBT people, in the UK and around the world, can live with dignity, safety, freedom and equality.

Still work to do

Trade unions supported LGBT rights long before big business competed to turn their products rainbow for one week of the year.

And we’re still here now, supporting LGBT people at work and fighting the discrimination that too many still face.

Our own research shows the scale of the challenge.

Two in five (39%) LGBT people have been harassed or discriminated against by a colleague, nearly three in ten by a manager, and around one in seven by a client, customer or patient.

Trans workers are particularly at risk, with almost half reporting bullying or harassment.

Lower levels of unacceptable and discriminatory behaviour are also tolerated in too many workplaces.

Nearly two thirds of LGBT people have heard homophobic or bi-phobic remarks or “jokes” at work, and more than a quarter have had such comments directed at them.

Lesbian and bi women have to put up with a toxic mix of homophobia and misogyny.

Hostile environment

If you’re not on the receiving end, these might not seem like that big a deal.

LGBT people are regularly told to shrug off casual prejudice and get on with their lives, but it’s not that easy.

Everyday homophobia, biphobia and transphobia create a hostile working environment in which LGBT people can’t be fully and comfortably themselves at work.

That’s why just half of LGB people are out to everyone at work – and this falls to just over a third among young workers.

In other words, despite the legal advances of the last decade, even the youngest LGB people still struggle with the fear of prejudice.

And despite the fact that the law makes disclosing a trans persons identify a criminal offence, just under a third of trans people have had their trans identity disclosed against their will, making it more difficult for them to recognised as who they are.

There’s lots that needs to happen to make sure all LGBT people can be out to everyone at work and feel their identity is respected.

For a start, the government could strengthen the law around harassment and bullying – and make employers responsible for protecting their staff from harassment by customers, patients or clients.

But the best way to change the culture and norms of a workplace is for working people to join together and have a voice that employers have to listen to. And that means a union.

Why join a union?

Unions are powerful.

Where there’s a union, the boss has to sit down and negotiate over pay, conditions and equality – including things like rights for LGBT workers, support for LGBT parents and stronger protections against bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Unions have the formal right to negotiate – they aren’t just a manager-led LGBT network to be ignored if they ask for something inconvenient.

And trade unions can help individuals fight back against bullying and harassment – and even help members take their case to an employment tribunal without worrying about legal fees.

Working in a trade union workplace makes it more likely that there will be strong anti-harassment and bullying policies, meaning fewer workers have to experience discrimination in the first place.

The solidarity from their union gives LGBT workers the freedom to achieve extraordinary things.

Take Daniel Gray, a teacher and National Education Union member, who last year came out publicly at a school assembly.

Daniel says that he wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this without his union reassuring him that they had his back if there were negative repercussions.

And that’s why, this Pride season, every LGBT worker should get together with their colleagues and join a union.