date: 2 July 2009
embargo: 11.00hrs Thursday 2 July 2009
In a speech to the 12th annual TUC LGBT conference later today (Thursday), TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will celebrate recent advances in lesbian and gay equality but warn there's still a long way to go before social attitudes catch up with changes in the law.
Brendan Barber will say: 'The past year has been one of genuine progress, we've seen welcome movement from the Government in dealing with bullying in schools and colleges, and the introduction of a single Equality Bill which will place a new duty on public bodies to promote LGBT equality.
'But while we have made real strides on the legal agenda, the wider battle for hearts and minds goes on. Stronger legal rights have yet to be fully mirrored by more progressive social attitudes. Britain may be a more tolerant, diverse place than a decade ago but the ugly scar of homophobia still continues to disfigure sections of our society.
'And you don't have to look far for the evidence from the casual chants on football terraces to the overt discrimination still experienced by the LGBT community, despite legal advances. And most disturbingly of all, the violent hate crimes that are still being perpetrated against LGBT people - and gay men in particular.
'People like Jeff Akers from Surrey, a member of Community. Last February he was subjected to an unprovoked and brutal attack by a violent homophobe. He was stabbed in the back with a carving knife with such force that it severed one of his ribs and punctured a lung. After staggering around looking for help, Jeff was taken to hospital. Doctors fought to save him, but he died later.
'Attacks like these are a scar on the conscience of modern Britain. While terrible tragedies such as this are mercifully rare, other examples of hate crime remain commonplace. And the extent of the problem is much wider than is sometimes assumed. According to the Homophobic Hate Crime Survey 2008, seven in ten victims of such crimes do not report these incidents to anyone. That is a pretty alarming statistic.
'This underlines the need for real change, for a justice system that LGBT people can have real confidence in and for a fundamental shift in underlying social attitudes. The battle to defeat prejudice, discrimination and violence goes on.
'But we've also got to get to grips with another huge challenge, a political landscape that is becoming more hostile to our cause, both in this country and across Europe. In last month's elections, we saw the deeply disturbing
election of two BNP MEPs, and an alarming continent-wide drift from the centre to the right, and from the right to the far right.
'In the European Parliament the Tories have left the mainstream European People's Party to build alliances with some of the most reactionary groups in Europe. This includes the Polish Law and Justice Party which has banned gay marches, closed down the government equality office, sought to link the LGBT community with paedophilia, and whose leader declared that 'the affirmation of homosexuality [would] lead to the downfall of civilisation'.
'We all need to be alert to some of the potential political dangers ahead. Unions have always been at the forefront of the struggle for LGBT equality, and this is where we must stay. In spite of the difficulties we face, I'm confident we can rise to the mighty challenges that lie ahead.
'Sometimes it's easy to forget just how far we have come since the first TUC LGTB conference in 1998. Back then Section 28 was still on the statute book, civil partnerships were but a distant aspiration and same-sex pension rights an impossible pipedream.
'But as a result of our campaigning, our lobbying and our hard work, we've changed the terms of the debate and Britain is a much better place because of it.
We've won equality in the law, now let's make it a reality in our communities and workplaces.'
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- The 12th TUC LGBT conference takes place at Congress House, Great Russell Street on Thursday 2 and Friday 3 July. At the two day event delegates from workplaces across the country will debate topical issues such as how to counter the electoral appeal of the BNP, the current Equality Bill and tackling prejudice against LGBT people.
- The conference kicks off at 11am on Thursday 2 July with a speech from TUC President Sheila Bearcroft and closes on Friday at 5.30pm.
- Speakers include Equalities Minister Maria Eagle MP and Dr Alberto Roque from the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX). On Friday morning there will be a panel session on tackling hate crime with presentations from Lesley Burton from the Crown Prosecution Service, DCI Gerry Campbell from the Metropolitan Police's Violent Crime Directorate and Deborah Gold, the director of GALOP (the LGBT campaigning organisation).
- If you would like to attend all or part of the TUC LGBT conference, please contact the TUC press office to organise accreditation.
- A copy of the TUC LGTB conference agenda can be found at http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/lgbt09.pdf
- The approximate conference schedule for the two days is:
Thursday 2 July
- 11 am, TUC President Sheila Bearcroft, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, LGBT Committee chair Maria Exall
- 2.15pm, Equalities Minister Maria Eagle, 4pm Bob Cant LGBT TU Oral History Project, 5.30pm Dr Alberto Roque
Friday 3 July
- 9.30 am, tackling hate crime panel session, 12.15pm Bradley Brady, director of stakeholder relations, EHRC
- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk
- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet
- Congress 2009 will be held at the BT Convention Centre, Liverpool from Monday 14 September to Thursday 17 September. All applications for media passes must be received no later than noon Monday 7 September. Any applications received after this date will be processed in Liverpool and subject to a £50 administration fee. The form for media credentials, plus information on how to book wireless internet access and a phone line at the BT Convention Centre can be accessed at www.tuc.org.uk/mediacredentials
Issued: 2 July, 2009